A REVIEW OF DENITRA TOWNSEND’S: STROLLING MONOLOGUES – ROYAL AFRICAN WOMEN! 2018
LEGENDARY NARRATIVES OF AFRICAN QUEENS THAT CORRELATE WITH THE LIVES OF PRESENT DAY WOMEN
Denitra Townsend, the creator and producer of the Strolling Monologues, fashionably graced the stage with assurance, class, and confidence on Friday, February 23, 2018, at the Carr Center Art Gallery. She is the founder of Unforgettable You, LLC which is a consulting company focusing on enhancing and beautifying one’s existence through fashion, hair, make-up, self-enhancement sessions and teaching proper social etiquette. Townsend offers her consultation services on an individual basis and for businesses. The origin of Unforgettable You, LLC began in 2005 as a part-time business. By 2011 the vision flourished into a company that needed to be nurtured full-time. Her mission, “is to help individuals embrace who they are fully by providing services that refine and manifest who they are unapologetically. It is also my mission to inspire and empower through movements and art!”
The Strolling Monologues is a divine vision Townsend believes was assigned to her by God. The monologues allow women to display their talents by telling the stories of prominent female figures who shaped history through their endurance, courage, and wisdom. Five amazing women who are actresses, poets, and entrepreneurs delivered powerful Monologues for the evening. They each studied and researched a historical African Queen and wrote their own monologue. The theme for Strolling Monologues 2018 was: Royal African Women! Townsend explained, “This platform allows me to combine my love and passion for fashion, beauty, and history and it also allows me to provide platforms for other creatives to display their talents.” For three years the Strolling Monologues have been well received by attendees. Townsend foresees the monologues as a tradition that will continue for many years.
On the evening of the event I sat amongst others who were captivated by the stories of legendary queens. They were warriors for their country, leaders of the people, and devoted to fulfilling their mission in life. The Carr Center wasn’t visited by onlookers who wanted to simply observe classic paintings held by enthusiastic walls. Instead, the crowd sat patiently in inviting chairs while listening to powerful women present monologues that taught us lessons about honor, dedication, commitment, and strength. Yes, an art gallery was transformed into a makeshift theater to educate our minds and nourish our inner beings. I learned the Queen’s life narratives depicted the struggles and victories Women face today. For those who were unable to join the journey, let me enlighten you.
THE MONOLOGUE OF QUEEN NZINGA
Alice Smith played the role of Queen Nzinga. She learned while studying the Queen she was “a warrior at heart.” She said one of the aspects that inspired her about Queen Nzinga is it doesn’t matter what age you are in life because you can always make a difference. Smith courageously told the story of Queen Nzinga:
Queen Nzinga of Angola was her father’s daughter from a second marriage. However, unbeknownst to her, she would become ruler of her Nation. Though her brother from her father’s first wife was appointed as king, he did not have the mental stability to withstand the demands of being a leader. She was a fighter on the forefront of the battlefields. The queen’s father was instrumental in teaching her to fight and hunt as a young girl. She was known for toting a spear, bow and arrow or stick. She not only used her fighting powers to protect her country, but she utilized her innate communication skills to represent her nation. At a time when Portuguese wanted to invade Angola, her brother didn’t want to face the challenge to develop a strategy for peace. Instead, Queen Nzinga accepted the task. When she arrived at the meeting they did not respect her as a woman and refused to give her a seat amongst the other male leaders. One of her servants who traveled with her was commanded by the Queen to sit on all fours and became her physical chair.
Her brother didn’t trust her skill set and eventually he lost his mind. It is believed he committed suicide which led to her being appointed Queen of Angola. In addition to her brother’s tragedy, her sister was kidnapped and killed. Through her trying circumstances she persevered, and her strong leadership skills allowed her to fight for her country for 30 years. By then she was 60 years old. Queen Nzinga ensured her people would not become slaves under her ruling. She was an advocate for her people until her death at the age of 80 years old, it was then her nation fell into the hands of captivity.
Queen Nzinga demeanor represents the modern-day woman who fights for many years to defend her family and territory. Women continue to be warriors in the face of adversity and fear. They are forced in roles to be brave before their time while their physical and mental stamina is questioned. Based on a woman’s femininity they are thought to be “too girly”, or “soft” to be powerful. During the month of March, National Women’s History Month is celebrated. Women continue to demand and fight for respect until the day they perish from the earth just as Queen Nzinga did centuries ago.
THE MONOLOGUE OF QUEEN YENNENGA
Queen Yennenga was portrayed by Eradajere Oleitta. This young lady is originally from West Africa which is the same origin of her character. You can say this role was tailored made for her. She learned about her character in a week. Oleitta admitted she “freestyled” which allowed her to master-key points about the Queen. Oleitta proudly told the story of Queen Yennenga:
Queen Yennenga wore many hats as daughter, princess, and warrior. However, her greatest desire in life was to birth a child. Her father groomed her to become a warrior at the precious age of 14 years old. She was fierce, swift, and could skillfully kill a lion from a 12-foot distance. Queen Yennenga’s father encouraged her to be whatever she thought was possible in life but never supported her vision of being a wife and mother. He envisioned her as being a horse rider fighting for her country. Eventually, she planned an escape to pursue her dreams. She fled her country with a companion, but he was killed during their travels. As she recovered from a broken heart she crossed paths with an Elephant Hunter. The two fell in love and she gave birth to a son. The Queen was proud because it was the greatest accomplishment in her life.
Isn’t that how life is at times? Society tells a Women they are not successful until they have a career, acquire a six-figure salary and receive the highest accolades from people who barely know their name. Wearing the title and fulfilling the roles of “Mother” and/or “Wife” is just as important as playing the role of “Business Leader” or “CEO.” It doesn’t matter if childbirth is natural or adopted, becoming a mother can be the happiest moment in many women lives. It isn’t fair when family members or friends to tell someone what their dreams should be. It should be someone’s lifelong goal to find the courage that shapes and fosters their visions, so they can materialize in life.
THE MONOLOGUE OF QUEEN AMANIERENAS
Assata Haki performed the role of Queen Amanirenas. She informed the audience it was difficult gathering information about her role because her story has never been fully decoded or transcribed. At times she felt the information had to be deciphered between facts vs. opinions. Haki expressed it was important to give “the history of where she came from so you can understand her greatness.” She also indicated the strength and power the Queen embodied became a part of her and helped developed the character. Haki dutifully told the audience about Queen Amanirenas:
It is stated Queen Amanirenas was from the ancient African Kingdom of Kush also known as Nubia. Her leadership skills were impeccable. Her land was rich and full of resources such as timber, leather, gold, and ivory which made it a hub for unlimited trading opportunities. She was tough in her own right. She lived a considerably modest life until the Roman Chief Magistrate Augustus Caesar made the decision to increase taxes on the land. Then let’s say, “All Hell Broke Loose.” Literally! While Augustus was away the Queen used her leadership skills with the help of her son to strategically build an army of thousands of men. She fought and marched with her crew and invaded the Roman territory. Historically, she is the only Queen known to mankind to defeat a Roman Army. Her loyalty and dedication for her country was so detrimental she lost one of her eyes in battle. Though she won the fight the war was not over. Queen Amanirenas fought many years to defend her country. Unfortunately, she had to retreat but the Queen played a beneficial role in constructing a peace treaty. Her bravery and courageous acts gained her invaluable respect from the Romans.
Queen Amanirenas represents the Woman who is not afraid to put on the whole Armor of God to face her battles. She is the devoted woman who stands by her family in times of distress. She is the loyal community leader who is the champion for her neighborhood. She affirms confidence even when opposition tries to steal her dreams. Even her losses illustrate monumental gains. Historically, women rights were suppressed and a falsehood of being inferior was encouraged. However, women have led demonstrations, crusades, and campaigns with the results showing we can be triumphant even when the moment appears to be bleak.
THE MONOLOGUE OF QUEEN MAKEDA
Trina Williams became Queen Makeda. She extracted information from documentaries and from the Bible to learn about her character. Williams said the elements she admired about Queen Makeda was, “I loved her presence, beauty, and grace.” Williams gave reference to Luke 12:48 by mentioning, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” She humbly explained in her monologue; the Queen took everything she had to acquire her wisdom.
Queen Makeda who was also called Queen Sheba is known to be a prominent figure in the Bible. The Queen of Sheba was a wealthy woman. Her kingdom possessed over 30 acres of land and was considered a place of two paradises. Queen Makeda had a quest in life to find the ultimate answer to obtain wisdom and knowledge. Her destination to find wisdom consisted of leading a caravan to Jerusalem. She did not travel lightly. On her 3000-mile trip of 75 days she took a total of 4 ½ tons of gold and 45 camels. Upon her arrival she offered her gifts to King Solomon and asked him many questions to find the wisdom she was searching for. On her journey she found her answer. She learned it was the true understanding of knowing God’s Love for herself provided all the wisdom and knowledge her heart could hold. In the play it was stressed, “Historians and archeologists searched for the wisdom she found, and it came freely from the Almighty God.”
It’s amazing how something that appears to be complex to answer can be addressed simplistically. Haven’t you been in a place of struggling to answer the tough questions in life? Many of us may not have her wealth but we have been in her situation. Have you ever looked for love in a relationship that caused more pain than joy? Have you ever hoped to find approval from a parent(s) or guardian(s) to justify the importance of your existence? Have you ever sought acceptance from your friends or colleagues, so you can “fit in?” Have you ever indulged in addictive behaviors to grant instantaneous self-gratification that leads to a downward spiral of negative results? Some of us travel a life time yearning for wisdom and knowledge to answer the questions of life and to find the gift of unconditional love. The answers are there if we stop the collateral damage and peel off the painted masks, so we can accept God’s Love. It doesn’t mean we will never face trials, but we will be equipped with the peace, wisdom, and knowledge to calm the raging storms of life.
THE MONOLOGUE OF QUEEN AMINA
Linda Jones-Remson depicted the character of Queen Amina. She told the audience her character gave her strength. Remson took the approach of becoming her character was, “The way I prepared I lost my mind…but I found it grounded in strength and power not questioning Who I am but knowing Who I am and being confident in that.” Remson’s voice resonated with boldness and power as she powerfully gave the narrative of Queen Amina.
Queen Amina of Zaria was nine years old when she was taught about the stamina and strength to become a warrior. She was the eldest of three siblings with her eldest brother in mind of becoming ruler of Zaria. However, a different plan unfolded, and she would later be appointed Queen. At age 16, her military training equipped her to be one of the Biggest, Boldest, and Bravest Women during her time. Her brother believed in her robustness and agility and decided to appoint her Chief Political Strategist over 10,000 men. She was faithful to her country that was known for trading metal, cloth, and leather. It was her desire for Zaria to become one of the Greatest Nations in the Continent. Queen Amina fought in battles alongside her brother. During a wage of war, she witnessed the enemy slit her brother’s throat which caused his death. At that moment she became ruler. During her reign on the throne she built one of the highest walls which still exists in North Nigeria. Though she never married or had children the stories of her legendary acts are still passed on from generation to generation.
Queen Zaria represents the woman who is considered a true “Boss Lady.” She didn’t buckle down or wasn’t intimidated by man’s authority. She was simultaneously loyal to her family and her country. Today, she is the voice of bravery. She is the warrior in the boardroom or the classroom. She is the leader on the block or the courtroom. She represents the charismatic and self-reliant woman of today. She is the Queen people envy because she does not allow her feminism to be defined by how others think she should be but by who she is destined to become.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF TELLING MONOLOGUES TO TEACH GENERATIONS ABOUT OUR ANCESTRY
After watching three separate showings of the Strolling Monologues in one night I felt Empowered and Ashamed. I was empowered because there are bits and pieces of me that represent each Queen. When I am called a Queen, or my daughter is called a Princess, they are terms that we shouldn’t use unmindful. We are Queens and Princesses who deserve respect and fight to win battles on our demanding jobs, while facing peer pressure or bullying at school, advocating for transformation in our communities, raising families in a society filled with anger, or entrepreneurs building empires. I felt proud and it reassured me, and my daughter can achieve the desires of our heart if we instill in ourselves we possess the fortitude and adeptness of our ancestors. At the same time, I was ashamed because the lessons I learned from these amazing women was something I should have taught my daughter years ago. However, it is never too late. The Strolling Monologues encouraged me to take ample time to teach my daughter about the accomplishments of our ancestors as a household tradition.
It was enlightening to sit next to two young queens who also enjoyed the show. I met Sharisa Robertson and Nastassia Rena who are both from Detroit. They enjoyed themselves. Sharisa stated the play was, “reinforcement after seeing the Black Panther.” She also added, “I learned a lot. Somethings I did not know at all. It was entertaining, and it put me at ease.” Nastassia Rena concurred with Robertson and said she enjoyed it as well. Watching the play also helped her decide about a tattoo she wanted. She said “I was looking for a tattoo. I was looking for an African Warrior.” After watching the Monologues, she decided to get a tattoo that represented Queen Amina because she inspired her. She heard of the Queen but never knew her story.
TOWNSEND’S MOTTO LIVES ON AND SO DOES THE STROLLING MONOLOGUES
On that Friday evening Ms. Townsend should be proud of honoring her motto in life. Ms. Townsend stated her personal motto is that, “The only time you’ll have failures are the times you never give yourself the opportunity to win.” Strolling Monologues – Royal African Women 2018 was a winner. Lord willing, my daughter and I will be there next year: Friday, February 22, 2019. I invite you to partake in next year’s lesson also and don’t forget to study throughout the entire year!
-Let your heart be full of new ventures that will lead you to the possibilities of limitless conversations!