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Photo courtesy of Center Stage

Baltimore Center Stage’s production explores Black excellence

James Van Der Zee, Shirley Chisholm, James Baldwin and Misty Copeland all have one thing in common: They are all iconic African Americans who have influenced and rewritten the course of history. 

Haven’t heard of them? Well, Director Hana Sharif is determined to illuminate a seemingly forgotten footprint scattered throughout history, showcasing the work of many different African American visionaries with her direction of Baltimore Center Stage’s, “The Ground on Which We Stand: An Exploration of Black Excellence.”

By teaming up with 100 youth from the Baltimore chapter of the Jack & Jill Foundation, a nonprofit committed to preparing young African Americans for leadership, Sharif hopes to create a “powerful moment of learning and sharing” and a “platform for [African American] youth” to highlight their ancestry and their excellence.

As a youth member of the Jack & Jill Foundation herself, Sharif has immense respect for the foundation’s mission of service and leadership and is excited to dive into work that she finds “incredibly meaningful.”

Featuring unique art, film and performances utilizing projection technology, “The Ground on Which We Stand” combines the work of African American intellectual icons with the voices of our nation’s future and in doing so, blurs the line between the past and the present.

Throughout rehearsals, Sharif has been astounded at how seamlessly the students shift from speaking as historical figures to speaking as themselves; it is often so well done that it is difficult to discern where one voice stops and the next begins. “The youth deliver [these works] in a way that is incredibly profound,” Sharif said. “They see themselves as part of the continuum.”   

“The Ground on Which We Stand” is an exploration in understanding the great depth of excellence in African American history. Sharif consistently challenges the youth involved to “dig deep internally” so that they can “articulate who they are and why they are.” There is no better time than the present to experience a stronger sense of self and to open a conversation about the rich African American history never taught in schools outside of the context of the Civil War.   

Sharif believes that these students will walk away from this experience with a better understanding of where they came from, equipped with the knowledge that they are part of the history that they celebrate.

By allowing the students to give agency to the historical texts and events, they simultaneously pay homage to their ancestors’ contributions to our country and become a part of these contributions as they write themselves into the historical narrative.

As Sharif said, “These children are going to change the world.”

“The Ground on Which We Stand: An Exploration of Black Excellence” will be a one-time-only performance at Baltimore Center Stage on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online and will benefit the Jack & Jill Foundation of America, Inc. and the Franklin Square Elementary and Middle schools.