Fueling the Resistance: The First Annual Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival

By Taylor Steinbeck

This past weekend, The Strand Theater opened its doors to the Bay Area, welcoming in community members for a day of free movement workshops, panels, and performances as part of the inaugural Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival 2018. For Stephanie Wilborn, A.C.T.’s Community Programs Coordinator and the festival’s co-producer, it was an unforgettable day “filled with joy, laughter, tears, and healing.”

The cast of Every 28 Hours (2018). Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
For the past two years, A.C.T. has participated with theaters in the surrounding area in a reading of Every 28 Hours, the 72 one-minute plays created in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. This year, the Education & Community Programs team wanted to see the reading evolve into a larger, community-wide event. “We saw this as an opportunity to turn the reading series into a festival where we could celebrate Black arts, Black activism, and Black culture,” says A.C.T. Community Producing Fellow and festival co-producer Nailah Harper-Malveaux.

Throughout the day and into the night, The Strand’s lobby was bustling with activity. Many festival attendees were wearing t-shirts reading “The Black Woman is God,” which were sold in the lobby as part of an exhibit by the same name, curated by artist Karen Seneferu. Leading up to the climactic Every 28 Hours plays were powerful spoken word performances by the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, drumming from Nyree Young, and a spiritual dance by Dezi Soléy. “The musical and movement performances prepared the space in a way that really got the audience in the mood to tackle some large issues in the Every 28 Hour plays,” says Harper-Malveaux.

The plays themselves—performed by members A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program, Young Conservatory, and Education & Community Programs—were moving, devastating, and shocking. Several members of the cast were moved to tears by the show’s close when names of black victims of police violence were being read. After the show, the audience split into facilitated group discussions in which thoughts and feelings about the issues and themes explored in the plays were processed. Drummer Nyree Young returned to end the night with an uplifting drum circle rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” where she encouraged the audience to join her in song. The crowd did her one better: black audience members broke out into an impromptu praise dance, embracing the joy of the moment. “It was an incredible feeling to be in a room that was celebrating us as a people and celebrating our resilience,” says Harper-Malveaux. “Art has a great ability to fuel a culture’s soul and fuel our resistance.”

To find out more about A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs, click here. Interested in getting involved with an activist group in the Bay Area? Check out this list of local organizations compiled by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice).

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