Sunday, January 30, 2011

Former city councilman/convict acts it out

In New Orleans, everybody acts, sings, plays an instrument, writes poetry or tap dances. Well, maybe not tap dance.

In an act of newfound humility, honesty and/or contrition, a former New Orleans city councilman, who served more than two years in federal prison, told his story onstage in the form of a two-act play before consecutive full houses and an extended run.

Oliver Thomas, a black politician, who was popular with both white and black voters, was once considered to be next in line to become mayor of New Orleans. Instead, he was found guilty of accepting a $20,000 bribe from a parking lot owner. His high school friend, Anthony Bean, who runs an Uptown theater company that focuses on African-American works and teaches drama to young people, convinced Oliver to help write and perform in his own play. Many of the scenes seemed written from Thomas's daily prison journals.

Aside from describing his personal humiliation and losses, the play had even more to say about the future of our urban youth. The inmates Thomas met in prison expressed their dire hopelessness, developed in fatherless homes, lousy schools and dilapidated public housing.

Our prisons are filled with these aimless young black men who lack any means of survival besides selling drugs.

One character said the only section of the newspaper his friends read is Metro, not Sports, because that part talks about the game they play. My heart bleeds reading the Metro section, seeing the young and sometimes innocent-looking young men who are either victims or perpetrators of crime. What could the future possibly hold for them when a college graduate can't find a job?

In the program, I noted in Oliver Thomas' bio he is now director of Advocacy Covenant House and a mentor at Circle of Courage.

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