By Jamie Larson
Lynda Blackmon Lowery.
Sometimes there are important lessons we think we know so well we forget how we came to learn them. Before she turned 15, Lynda Blackmon Lowery began fighting against segregation. A performance of her memoir, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom,
is taking the stage Saturday, Feb. 13 at the MC Smith Intermediate School in Hudson, New York. The story serves as a powerful reminder to young and old that the lessons learned during the civil rights movement must not be forgotten.
“I always hope that young people will see that they, too, can change things," says Lowery. “You just have to believe in yourself and that what you are doing is right."
Actress Damaras Obi.
Lowery’s book has been adapted into a one-woman performance, and tells of a teenager who was motivated to join the struggle for African-American voting rights after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at her church. She was arrested nine times before her 15th birthday and marched with her neighbors from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
But her commitment was sealed earlier than that. In 1957, when she was just seven, Lowery’s mother died. She would have easily survived, but the blood she needed was only available in Selma’s whites-only hospital. Lowery swore that day she would fight for equality the rest of her life.
“In the segregated South, there was no love," she remembers. “I grew up black and proud and I knew where I sat in the system."
Producer Miranda Barry.
Lowery’s book was adapted into a performance piece by Fiorello LaGuardia High School for Music, Art and Performing Arts teacher Ally Sheedy (yes, acclaimed actress Ally Sheedy
is the director) and is performed by Sheedy’s senior acting student, Damaras Obi. Hudson resident Miranda Barry is producing the project. Lowery is flying up from Alabama to attend the event and will speak after the performance. The lessons of Turning 15
, Barry says, are as important in New York as they are in Alabama.
Barry was the head of global production for Sesame Street
and also worked on programs like Ghostwriter
, in the '90s. “As a producer of TV shows for kids, I know how important and empowering it is for people to see themselves in the media," she says. "So when I learned that Ally Sheedy and Damaras Obi were adapting Lynda Blackmon Lowery's book for the stage, I thought — this is it! She was just a regular teenager who became engaged and stood up for herself and her father's right to vote. I thought it would be inspiring for all of our kids to see what an ordinary person can do once she sets her mind on freedom. The fact that Lynda Lowery can be here to see the show and talk to the audience makes the impact even stronger."
For its size, Hudson is a diverse little city but it is also, despite all its progressive trappings, embarrassingly segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines. Though separated by a single block, Hudson’s arts and culture-based business district seems a world away from the low-income housing neighborhood where most of Hudson’s minority population lives. The divide has an impact on how children see themselves in their community and at school.
“We, black and white, are not sure where we fit. So we stay with our own," Lowery says. “A lot of the time we, as black people, do not think we are able or capable of doing anything a white person can. Black kids don’t think they’re qualified [for jobs in a predominantly white area like Warren Street in Hudson] because they are not a part of the white community."
This somber way of thinking is something she hopes Turning 15
will help to change in the communities it visits.
“You do not have to look at yourself that way," Lowery tells children of color. “My grandmother taught me not to let anything own my mind, because that’s what you’re a slave to."
Lowery believes it's time for young people to rise again to continue the fight for equality. She said the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t working hard enough to elicit the real change that is needed.
“Black Lives seem to only matter when CNN is filming. As soon as the show’s over you don’t hear about it," she says. “When we were marching, it didn’t stop. If a group went to jail in the morning, another went to jail in the afternoon. There’s got to be continuity."
As someone who received beatings at 14 years old for peacefully protesting for the right to vote (she still bears a scar above her eye and on the back of her head — 35 stitches in all), she says people need to remember that the ballot is the best place for young people to make an impact.
is set to be a truly enjoyable and inspiring performance for Hudson and all of us who need a little kick in the ass as a reminder that there's a lot more we can do to empower our collective community. The presence of Lowery at the performance, along with its noteworthy director, producer and star makes Turning 15
an important event in regional culture.
Lowery’s lesson to us all: “You have to fight every day." That’s how you don’t forget.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom
Saturday, Feb. 13 at 3 p.m.
M. C. Smith Intermediate School
182 Harry Howard Ave., Hudson, NY
Suggested donation: $10 for adults; free for children 12 and under.
All tickets will be sold at the door. Proceeds benefit the Hudson Area Library.