Westporter’s ‘Journey’ through black women’s history
WESTPORT — At a time when racism in theater has been decried from the stage of the Academy Awards to Broadway, Westport resident Kimberly Wilson has an antidote. She transforms herself into Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and others as she takes her theatrical message of freedom for black women across Connecticut and the Northeast.
“We want our stories to be told,” she said in a recent interview. “I try to promote black history 365 days a year.”
Particularly busy during Women’s History Month in March, as well as Black History Month in February, Wilson has performed her one-woman musical show “Journey” throughout Fairfield County and the state. She performs annually at the Westport Historical Society, at public libraries, elementary and high schools, and churches. “Everywhere from private homes to 900-seat auditoriums — and I’ve done both,” she said. She returned recently from performing in Washington, D.C.
“She is a remarkable performer and speaker,” Susan Gold, executive director of the Westport Historical Society said of Wilson. “She embraces the audience, young and old, with her performances.” Wilson has performed at the historical society for several years, always to sold-out audiences, Gold added. “Her performance is so effective, so connected to what (the historical society) is about.”
Wilson said her goal is to educate others, inspire them with stories of famous black women and to encourage her audience to tell their own stories.
“When we tell more of our stories and we share our stories … this idea of a separate world will fade away.” she said of her own efforts to combat racism and promote equal opportunity for all people.
Wilson grew up in Minneapolis in a family of six children, and moved to Connecticut because one of her sisters lives here and teaches in Weston. She has lived in Westport for about 15 years.
Wilson has been an actress practically all her life. (“I prefer actress to actor because that’s what I am — a woman,” she says.) After attending a children’s theater school in Minneapolis, she graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and has continued her passion for theater ever since. Her show, “Journey,” which she also produces and directs, has become her main theatrical venture, although she still considers other acting opportunities, she said.
When Wilson takes the stage, she is transformed into a woman of an earlier era. With very simple props — a chair and one long scarf — she embodies seven different women. Her face is re-molded, her voice changes, her accent and her body language change and the audience travels through time with her to the history of African Americans before slavery. She starts in Africa as an African queen and journeys across the ocean as a slave. She becomes Harriet Tubman, the black woman who was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, bringing slaves to freedom, and Sojourner Truth, the black abolitionist. Each transformation she makes is accompanied by music — a spiritual that is an integral element of the program. The musical aspects of the “Journey” production are important to her, said Wilson, who is a pianist as well.
Wilson is member and officer of the Theater Artists Workshop, formerly located in Westport, and now in Norwalk, a nonprofit organization of local actors. She recently performed there and plans performances at an elementary school in Bridgeport and Trumbull High School in March.
She hopes to take many more adults and children with her on her journey, both to entertain them and to promote a better life for all people.
“We want the opportunity for equal education, equal paying jobs, the right to live and love like everyone else,” she said.