Donald E. Lacy, Jr. in "ColorStruck"
Prominent Bay Area activist/comedian illuminates and uplifts withsolo show about color-consciousness and institutional racism.

 

Behind: Colin Kaepernick
Behind: Mohammad Ali

From February 27 to March 15, 2020, Theater for the New City (TNC) will present comedian/actor/broadcaster Donald E. Lacy Jr. updating his one man show, "ColorStruck," a bittersweet examination of how cultural assumptions drive American society. Since national politics provide a never-ending supply of new material, the piece is continually reshaped. The velocity of change since TNC presented the show's New York debut last year (Feb-March, 2019) has prompted Lacy to initiate a wholesale overhaul.

Lacy's gift is in using humor as an icebreaker to bring all races to the racial colloquy. Paul Berss (NY Theatre Wire) characterized last year's production as "a seamless ride from hate and injustice to funny and heartwarming, all artfully blended and delivered by a master entertainer who is at once an actor, a comedian, a thinker and an activist."

The piece is undergoing development as of this writing. New topics will include Lacy's surprise lessons from participating in the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) prison reform summit in Philadelphia. In a surprising act of bipartisanship, this group helped get thousands of nonviolent offenders released around Thanksgiving. Other new subjects will probably include the impeachment, the fragile situation in the Middle East, tribal symbolism in the upcoming national election and the racial context of Megan and Harry leaving the Royal Family. There is also much new multimedia: the piece now begins with a taped five-minute prologue by spoken word artist VinDesh  about the status of free thought in 2020 America and a video talk by Jane Elliott, pioneer of the Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment in 1968, discussing racism as a mental illness.

The piece was born in California's Bay Area and has been presented on college campuses around the country and at the National Black Theatre Festival. It was performed twice for the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus. It begins as a comedic autobiography of a sensitive, light-skinned African American man growing up in Oakland during the height of the Black Pride movement. It recounts how, as a child, Lacy was shunned by some people in the black community for not being dark enough and ostracized by some members in the white community for being too dark. It develops into an examination of how cultural assumptions underlie institutionalized racism. Director is Sean San Jose; soundscape and music are by two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Soulati Shepherd.

Donald E. Lacy, Jr. on his
high school grauation night.

Born light-skinned to a dark-skinned African-American family in 1960s Oakland, Donald E. Lacy, Jr. was taunted by other boys as a half breed and grew up with a heightened sensitivity to race and the feelings of alienation and ostracism. It was the time when the Black Pride was enveloping young African Americans and Oakland was one of its epicenters. Lacy's comedy is rooted in the conundrum of expressing Black pride and consciousness while not appearing obviously Black to the naked eye. In "ColorStruck," he reflects on the infernal constancy of racism in America while waxing fondly on emblems of the black experience, including hairstyles, pop culture memes and myths of family life.

The play uses humor, drama, improvisation, dance, tone poems, hip-hop and current events to deepen our understanding. The audience is encouraged to sing along and to engage each other. Each performance is followed by a post-play discussion.

The earliest version of "ColorStruck" first appeared in  2007 in Oakland and was staged that year at the National Black Theater Festival. It was performed at the 2007 Congressional Black Caucus at the invitation of Congresswoman Barbara Lee and returned for an encore in 2008.  A  later version of "ColorStruck," chronicling the Obama Presidency as part of the Conversations In Color Tour, premiered at the Conference of Race and Pedagogy in September 2014 at the University of Puget Sound. Since that time, the piece has been performed in over 20 college-based theaters and performing arts centers across the country. 

LoveLife Foundation

Lacy is a Bay Area-based actor, standup comic, broadcaster, activist, and playwright. He founded the LoveLife  Foundation in 1997 as a tribute to his slain 16 year-old daughter, a victim of random urban gun violence. He felt he had a score to settle, not with the boys who mistakenly took his daughter's life, but against the poverty, hopelessness, misguided anger and other forces that devour young lives. The organization offers programs for young people including mentoring, a school safety program, training in video/radio production and theater performance, civic engagement, town hall meetings, public service announcements and vigils to remember young people slain on the streets. The foundation and Mr. Lacy have received about 27 civic and government awards and citations to-date. The foundation was honored by the Oakland A's on July 4, 2019, projecting a two-minute video on the Foundation's work on the scoreboard. Lacy threw out the first pitch.
LoEshe' Adanma Lacy

Lacy's daughter was named LoEshe' Adanma,  In Ibo/Nigerian, LoEshe' means love life and Adanma means daughter of beauty. In 1997, LoEshe' and a girlfriend since childhood caught a ride after school in a van driven by a young man.  He was attacked by four  assailants who fired several shots into the vehicle, aiming at him. The intended target and LoEshe's girlfriend, while wounded, survived. LoEshe' did not. Now Lacy relates that the LoveLife Foundation was LoEshe's idea. Three months before her death, she had endured the death of a friend and asked her father to help her write a play about stopping the violence. "She is an amazing spirit," he says.

After her death, Lacy bonded with other parents who'd had similar experiences. One bereaved father warned Lacy that his anger would annihilate him unless he channeled it into something productive. Now, Lacy attends a steady stream of meetings with city leaders, community organizers and youth groups and appears on TV and radio to speak out on youth violence. He frequents City Council meetings and lectures high schoolers on staying safe and being alive. He has achieved local celebrity status. "LoveLife" was adopted in 2016 as the official motto of the city of Oakland and Lacy was a commencement speaker at Berkeley City College in 2017.

Oakland city sign with Love Life emblem

In 2018, Van Jones and a CNN film crew accompanied Lacy to capture his first meeting with the man convicted of murdering his 16 year old daughter. Lacy forgave him on camera to set an example to all people that forgiveness is possible. Lacy also attended his parole hearing several months later and spoke on his behalf.  Parole was granted and the shooter, now remorseful, was released later that year. Jones' CNN special, "The Redemption Project," aired May 12, 2109. To-date, it has been viewed by over 14 million people worldwide. (https://tinyurl.com/tzr6a9b)

Watch "The Redemption Project" on CNN
CNN illustration by Max Pepper

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