I was first introduced to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 2005 when I was deeply immersed in a career in the not-for-profit theater world. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Theater of the Oppressed as a practice. The combination of these two events has led to a profound change in the way I think, the way I approach my work, the way I imagine the future. Nothing has pleased me more in the time since my discovery of popular education as outlined by Freire and my formal introduction to the work of Augusto Boal, than each opportunity to share these tools with others and seeing them, in turn, profoundly transformed by the experience.
Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed has been convening people from around the world for 22 years, bringing people together to express ourselves, exchange ideas, explore possibilities and engage in dialogue. Participants come to sharpen their analysis, to expand their toolbox, to deepen understanding of the work, practices and expressions of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal. The conference, according to Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed, Inc. President S. Leigh Thompson, “is possibility, it is resistance, it is pathway to revolutionary love and liberation. Coming together in a time where we are urged to be apart, to reflect when there is so much to react to, to dialogue when we are wrapped up in slogans and sound bites—these are revolutionary actions.”
I had the joy and honor to serve as lead organizer and chair of the Detroit host committee for the 22nd International Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference in Detroit. It was an undertaking that began nearly three years ago over a glass of scotch (very good scotch) with Julian Boal. We dreamed of what the power of experience to have this event in a city that has become the emblem of self-transformation and resiliency—a city that is in and of itself a powerful generative object leading many to conscientization.
I was overjoyed to have popular education and cultural activism taking a place in the heart of Detroit’s social justice community at Cass Commons and it was simply a thrill that my cherished colleagues in the Motor City were able to spend a few days immersed in beautiful, inspiring, effective and consciousness-raising work. It was equally satisfying that nearly three hundred attendees from around the world were able to make the acquaintance of Detroit, perhaps for the first time.
I’m extremely grateful to the PTO board, the local planning team, the many friends, institutions, community leaders and all of whom dedicated time and resources to attend this event at such and historic moment. I’m grateful to those who came before us, paving our way. I am grateful to our ancestors, especially those who took their place among them only recently—Grace Lee Boggs Vincent Harding, Ron Scott and Charity Hicks. I hope that the event honored them and allowed those participating to honor each other by being the best student-teachers, teacher-students, actors and spectactors imaginable for the three days of the conference and together into a future of waging love!