Young troupe pours time, talent into black history shows


Their goal is a trip to Africa -- they've been invited by the ambassadors of Senegal and Gambia to perform.

They are youths from Maryland, Virginia and Washington who call themselves Uprising and who blaze through 5,000 years of African and African-American history by using poetry, drama, music and dance.

To raise money for the June trip (they need about $65,000 and have thus far collected $10,000), the performing arts group of 32 youths ages 8 to 17 are asking people to send in $1 or more. Contributors will have their names added to scrolls, which will be dedicated on Goree Island, off the coast of West Africa.

The group also charges a small admission for their performances and has been selling T-shirts and buttons to raise money, says Linda Harris, the group's drama coach.

The youths will perform tomorrow at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

During a two-hour performance, the young people dramatize African and African-American history and vignettes from contemporary black life. They use the works of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Miles Davis and Marcus Garvey among many other leaders.

The performance includes Jon Ware Jr., 14, reciting "Are You Ready for the 21st Century," a contemporary piece for young people.

"When you understand your role in history, you will not be held back," he tells audiences.

Keith Harris, 14, does a rendition of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Soone Cham stalks around as an angry teen-ager who has no positive role models, sees despair all around her and has given up hope. "How dare you look at me with so much conceit," she recites. "You don't live on my street."

Uprising came together in February 1992 after the young people acted in a black history play at a community club in Oxon Hill and decided to continue.

"Actually, we got involved because our mothers made us," says Jon, a freshman at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro.

"Our kids have always been involved in sports," says Audrey Ware, Jon's mother. "We wanted to show them that they can be involved in something other than sports and be successful."

After more than a year of performing, including an appearance on Capitol Hill, there has been a change in the children, Mrs. Ware says.

"Their self-esteem and their confidence now are incredible," says Mrs. Ware, who is dean of Charles County Community College and artistic director for the group. "They are not in the least bit shy."

Jon's parents -- his father Jon Sr. is a chemist -- formed the Spirit of Truth Foundation to drum up support for the group. The foundation's goal is to start a college scholarship program for members of the group.

Although his parents were the catalysts, Jon says he enjoys belonging to Uprising and doesn't mind the roughly eight hours of practice a week. The group performs about twice a week for schools or community groups.

When not practicing, the children are reading and researching African and African-American history, Mrs. Ware says. "There are certain nights when we just have history lessons," she says.

The children say the history lessons fill in a gap from what they are learning in school. "We knew African-American history but not about African history," Keith says.

Since joining the group, the children have learned about the 54 African countries.

"We now know the religions, the clothes, something about all of the countries," Jon says.

"We have to do a lot of reading, acting and performing," Soone adds. "It's demanding. But fun. That's what keeps you pushing yourself."

Contributions can be sent to: Uprising to Africa, 6903 Perrywood Road, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. Be sure to include your name.


Where: Great Blacks in Wax Museum, 1603 E. North Ave.

When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Free tour of the museum from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost: Adults $7, students $5.

Call: (410) 563-3404

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