Student Newsroom

Touring show teaches kids about Black history and making a difference


Jabari (Verdale Stinson Jr., left), watches as 15-year-old Claudette Colvin (Colette Ambo, center), is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in “Jabari Dreams of Freedom.” Photo by Jane Feldman Photography

URBANA — As it nears the end of a national tour, a play that teaches children about Black history and the civil rights movement is coming to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts. 

“Jabari Dreams of Freedom” is a play by Nambi E. Kelly, written in 2012. It follows Jabari, a 10-year-old Black boy in the United States. After an encounter with police in which his friend was hospitalized, Jabari becomes so afraid that he can’t go to school. 

In a dream, he travels back to the era of the civil rights movement and meets young people who overcame their fears to help make change in the world, including Claudette Colvin and Ruby Bridges, as well as the childhood version of his idol, Barack Obama. 

These figures help Jabari learn to express his fears and start to heal. 

Kelly said she originally wrote the play for her nephew after the death of Trayvon Martin to help him learn to deal with his own fears. 

“I not only wanted to introduce generations behind me to the music of the civil rights movement, I also wanted to instill courage into young people when what is happening in the news can be scary,” Kelly said in a press release. 

Now, 10 years later, the show is finishing its second national tour, and it continues to be pertinent, said Colette Ambo — who plays Bridges, Colvin and the other female characters of the show.

“We continue telling this story because, unfortunately, the reason Nambi created the play is still relevant today,” Ambo said. “These things are still happening. Frequently.” 

Each of the shows is followed by a short session in which the young audience members can ask the cast members questions. 

“Sometimes we get questions that reference other people who have gone through similar experiences as Trayvon, more recent victims,” Ambo said. “And that’s when it clicked, that they’re so young, they don’t even know about Trayvon Martin.

“It was relevant then, and it’s so sad that it’s relevant now.”

Still, Ambo said that when they leave the show, she wants kids to know that they can make a difference in the world, no matter how old they are.

“I hope that one of the things they take away is that kids have a voice,” she said. “You, as a child, can make a change, and there’s no telling what you can inspire.”

A play like “Jabari Dreams of Freedom” could also be encouraging for kids from non-white communities that don’t always see themselves represented in theater, Victor Ruiz-Divas, a playwright, said. 

Ruiz-Divas is also a teacher at University Primary School, and he said this particular show, which is aimed at young audiences, could also be helpful for kids who are facing their own struggles.

“It represents having courage in a world that is not kind to Black and brown youth, specifically Black and brown boys,” Ruiz-Divas said. “So that show in itself is very empowering.”

The show is 10 a.m. Saturday. It will be followed by a short question-and-answer session with the cast. 
Tickets and more information can be found on the Krannert Center’s website.