by Charles Randolph-Wright
I knew nothing about Akeelah and the Bee when I went to see the film, except that I had friends in it. I expected great performances from them, but I was unprepared for the unique, powerful, entertaining, and truly life-changing experience the film was for me.
I am descended from a long line of educators. When I first attended school, my mother told me to make an A or an F, that there was no average in our family. Average simply was not good enough. I was very fortunate because my family - and especially my mother - gave me permission to dream, and to dream big. That was quite a task for a young kid from rural South Carolina, but I believed them.
Akeelah is given a similar task of following her dreams, which unfortunately means following your fears. How does one do that? How do you allow belief and passion to replace fear? Our country has become so polarized that I worry our kids thwart their dreams for far too many reasons. But then I walk into the rehearsal room of Akeelah and the Bee, and I am instantly reminded of its power. I watch these young actors – Black, Asian, Latino and White – take this amazing journey together. How extraordinary to experience such a stunning depiction of our world on stage.
Cheryl L. West has taken Doug Atchison’s amazing film and has transformed it into an amazing play. I am so very proud when I realize that people (and not just young audiences) will watch Akeelah and hopefully be moved and inspired to make a difference. At such a depressing time in our country where it seems no one is listening to each other, Akeelah steps up to the microphone and through spelling forces us to realize that we have far more in common than we have that is dissimilar. And what better place to tell this story than in our nation’s capital, at my home Arena Stage. I am thrilled to bring this play to the audiences here that I love so much, and I feel blessed to collaborate with the genius of Cheryl. I dedicate this to the memory of my greatest teacher, my mother, and to all the teachers out there. What you do truly changes the world. Thank you.