It isn’t often that artists are able to use their platform to introduce conversations. Our goal, as staff members of Memphis: The Musical, was to not only tell stories of dignity for black people, but to also provide a story that could resonate with others and lead to enlightening conversation.

After HCFTA’s matinee show on Aug. 25, there was a panel  discussion on major themes of the show, the different ways discrimination and racism still are upheld today and the way that theater can be a tool for combating these issues. The panel included main and supporting leads, staff members and Tiffany Saunders, a sociology professor at UIS.

My initial selection of Memphis was based on the need to have stories that contained depth and dignity for people of color. Additionally, it was necessary to have a production that was diverse, not frequently performed and contained a message for the community. Memphis reached so many of my expectations, even showing some white cast members what it is like to not be a central part of a show because of your skin color.

Gina Gina, a cast member in the Main Street ensemble, commented on what it was like to be in the background of a cast mostly centered on people of color. Vincent “June” Chappelle II shared that this was the first time that there were a collection of characters that were not only light or brown-skinned, but also deep and dark pigmented as well.

This in itself was another goal, to show that stories of people of color are variously hued and marketable. We hope that Springfield is taking note. There are very talented people in this town that should be considered for not only historically based roles, but also for stories that do not specify race at all.

Reggie Guyton
Director, Memphis: The Musical

See page 17 for Dennis Thread’s review of Memphis. An audio of the panel discussion is available at


Growing up, I know that all my parents wanted for me was the best – the best education, the best home life and the best opportunities. I think that is still what most parents want.

When Lauren White applied to teach French at Sacred Heart-Griffin, she was offered the job and told she was the best candidate. When the school found out that she is a lesbian, the priority was no longer what is best for the students. In short order, her job offer was rescinded.

My response is not about whether or not this action is legal; unfortunately, I know that it is. It is about the message it sends and the perpetuation of hate and divisiveness. It is said that being a lesbian doesn’t follow the doctrine of the Catholic church. The Catholic church also says that divorce and remarriage make for adultery. Are there no divorced staff members at SHG or any of the Catholic schools?

The irony is that there are LGBT students at SHG. Their tuition isn’t turned away. It’s also ironic that there is gay-straight alliance at SHG, a group for LGBT students and allies. What is the message to these students? You can go to school here, but when you are looking for a job, don’t come calling? Or perhaps the message is that you are somehow less than, and you cannot be a role model. That doesn’t seem like a message you should get from any school, regardless.

Once upon a time I went through elementary school and junior high, high school, junior college, then went on to graduate school for my Ph.D. Some teachers were good, some not so much, but not one time did I ever know the sexual orientation of any of my teachers.

It’s only through the efforts of all humankind that we can create change. Let’s step up and be both – human and kind.

Jonna Cooley
Executive director, Phoenix Center

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