Summer Performances in the US "200 Years of Returns"

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200 Years of Returns

Liberia 2022

2022 marks 200 years since the first Black Americans settled in Liberia through the American Colonization Society, a project inspired by Black merchant Paul Cuffee’s repatriation journey to Sierra Leone in 1815 and catalyzed by New Jersey’s Robert Finley in 1822 that would result in what is arguably the earliest historical site of Black American liberation. “200 Years of Returns” is a collaboration between Burning Barriers Building Bridges(more commonly known as B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia) and the Museum Theatre Department of Colonial Williamsburg (CW) in Virginia, United States. This interactive performance juxtaposes past and present "returns" to Liberia since 1822 when Black American settlers first arrived encountering various African ethnic groups. Instead of a re-enactment which aims to recreate an often one-sided history with little reckoning with historical trauma, truth, consequences or responsibility, we deeply engage and present an interpretation of historical documents in a way that considers multiple perspectives and viewpoints. For B4 Youth Theatre Founder and Executive Director Dr. Jasmine Blanks Jones, Liberia’s founding recognized “the making of the African diaspora as a continuous process; the returns of African people to and from the continent afford new ideas of what it means to be part of a global African community.”

Therefore, the performance draws on research from historical accounts from within the American Colonization Society, Maryland Colonization Society, and other relevant archives and collections of letters written by early settlers to their former slaveholders in America. Anxious about the place that free Black people occupied in American society where they were denied the rights of citizenship, members of these organizations sought to colonize them in West Africa. 200 Years of Returns centers on narratives about free and enslaved Black people in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia region) in the decades leading up to 1822 and what became the first “Back to Africa” movement before and during the Revolutionary War. Finally, it unsettles myths regarding early interactions between the repatriates and those who met them on the land now called Liberia as historicized by Dr. Carl Patrick Burrowes, enlivening new possibilities for understanding African abolition and transnational Black solidarity. Though the performance will be a historical account connecting the modern-day United States and Liberia, the performance focuses on the contemporary sociocultural and political issues arising from multiple perspectives of this early encounter against subsequent returns to Liberia. 

Burning Barriers, Building Bridges (B4) Youth Theatre is a performance company founded in 2010 in Liberia, West Africa dedicated to empowering youth to become educated citizens through the arts. Performances span street theatre across the country of Liberia to staged performances at Monrovia City Hall and RLJ Resort where they performed both Hamlet with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre of London, UK, and Liberia’s own Murder in the Cassava Patch by Bai T. Moore. These performances drew audiences in the hundreds and had an online reach of nearly 10,000 live viewers; however, the “200 Years of Returns” project is the first time the B4YT Liberia team will perform in the United States. B4’s annual Vacation School for the Arts program has trained hundreds of youth across Montserrado, Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi, and Nimba counties to use music, dance, and drama as tools to share information, spark important discussions, and learn about community needs on contemporary issues such as gender and education, lack of employment, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Their work gained global attention during the Ebola epidemic where, as the first active awareness campaign in Liberia in coordination with UNICEF, youth actors reached 300,000 people through live drama and hosted UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom.

Colonial Williamsburg is the world's largest outdoor living history museum with exhibitions including artisans of trades common in the 18th century practiced in period clothing, exhibition sites of original and reconstructed 18th Century buildings, and theatrical presentations exploring themes relevant to modern audiences. This collaboration focuses on the Museum Theatre Department in the Education, Research, and Historical Interpretation (ERHI) Division at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Primary contact and collaborator is The Artistic Director of museum theater, Katrinah Lewis, who works with actor interpreters who portray thoroughly researched 18th century people of the past and devise theatrical programming to illuminate aspects of their lives and culture. These programs include first-person interpretations that portray characters such as the US founding fathers and also devise contemporary theater to portray the stories of those who are less often told. In 1926, the Reverend Dr. William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, with the financial backing of John D. Rockefeller Jr., began to restore Williamsburg to its original colonial state, starting with the purchase of the historic Ludwell-Paradise House. Today, Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area houses restored and historically preserved buildings, 88 of which are originals, upholding our educational mission, “That the future may learn from the past” through immersive, authentic 18th-century experiences and programming for our guests. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)3 educational institution. 


Upcoming Shows

On July 2, 2022, from 1:30 pm to 2:15 pm, a  team of four actors from B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia will share the stage with actors from CW Virginia at Hennage Auditorium in the Colonial Williamsburg Arts Museum to commemorate the “200 Years of Returns” anniversary. Also, see 200 Years of Returns at our Returns and Remembrance: Diaspora Homecoming on July 26 (Liberian Independence Day) at Bloomberg Hall on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Campus at 6 pm with special guest Colombian band Kombilesa Mi, co-hosted by African Diaspora Alliance. In partnership with Inheritance Baltimore: Billie Holiday Center for Liberation Arts, Center for Africana Studies, Program in Racism, Immigration and Citizenship at Johns Hopkins, Slavery and Justice Conference, Maryland State Arts Council. Come join us as we celebrate this historic event. 

Meet the  B4 Youth Theatre - Liberia Actors


Silas N. Juaquellie (Artistic Director)

Silas volunteered as an Arts instructor with B4 Youth Theatre (B4YT) in Liberia, West Africa in 2013. He has been the National Director of B4YT Liberia since his appointment in 2014. For nearly ten years, Silas has enjoyed using theatre to create awareness in Liberia about social issues and speaking out for the marginalized groups in his community. The 2022 Year of Returns project has helped him understand the history and culture of Liberia and the United States more deeply. Also, he is excited to share the stage with his colleagues from CW with similar abilities, skills, and ideas that they have shared through the virtual meetings

Hannah Mckay (Actor)

Hannah Mckay is the newly appointed Partnership Director of B4 Youth Theatre and also one of the first students of the program. She opened a B4YT site in Grand Bassa County, Liberia when she was 17 years old. She loves training other young people and performing. Hannah is partnering with junior arts instructors to open two additional B4 Youth Theatre sites in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Through this program, she has learned how to connect with people from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, Ms. Mckay is ecstatic about the 200 Years of Returns and is looking forward to cultural exchange with the CW team.


Christopher Suah (Actor)

Christophus Suah, student coach has been working with B4YT since 2018. He started as a student in the vacation school program. B4 Youth Theatre has helped him develop his public speaking skills and provided him with opportunities he probably would not have had access to. Chris enjoys teaching other young people through the arts and learning about the environment. He is looking forward to the 200 Years anniversary performance where he can showcase his arts and what he has learned.

Cecelia Wesseh (Actor)

Cecelia is a junior arts instructor who started with B4YT as a student in 2016. B4YT has given her a platform to educate her peers on issues affecting her community and the experience to teach other young artists. Coming to the United States to celebrate 200 years since the first Black American freed slaves return to Liberia gives her the opportunity to see the other side of history. Also, she is eager to share the big stage with other actors and display her skills acquired over the past years. 


Kindly donate to support the B4YT Liberia team with the activities in the United States. Every member of the team is confident about the upcoming events. Each person is looking forward to the lessons and experience to share with their colleagues upon return to Liberia, West Africa.


B4 Founder, Jasmine visits CW and meets with Katrinah Lewis and Deirdre Jones to plan for 200 Years of Returns

This program is supported by the William Penn Foundation.

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