Walk with Me
Meet the Storytellers
EDUCATOR: Stephanie Bishop
STUDENTS: Abria Humphries, Bray’n Brown, Travis Kennedy, Bryce Kephart
LMC Fellow Stephanie Bishop spent ten years teaching theater at Prince George High School in eastern Virginia, in that time developing an award-winning theater arts department that made her students three-time state theater champions (2002, 2004, and 2006). In 2007, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes enlisted her expertise for its production of Life in a Jar, the story of Irena Sendler. After witnessing firsthand the play’s impact on its audiences, Stephanie felt inspired to use her art to create a dialogue about the issues facing her students today.
She began by questioning, “What does my community need? What can repair us?” Then, during her LMC Fellowship in the summer of 2011, Stephanie learned about Kendall Reinhardt and recalled the impact the Little Rock Nine had on her growing up. She decided to write a one act play about the young man who stood up for Elizabeth Eckford in order to demonstrate the power of one person to make a difference in the lives of others.
Around that time, two of her former theater students, Travis Kennedy and Bryce Kephart, stopped by for a visit. Having recently graduated from high school, Travis and Bryce were trying to figure out their next steps and seeking a creative outlet. When Stephanie told them Ken’s story, they immediately wanted to help tell it. Stephanie cast them both, as well as one of her current students, Abria Humphries. (Prince George High School senior, Bray’n Brown, joined the cast when Abria graduated.)
Stephanie and the students worked together to hone the script, “Walk with Me,” using Ken’s story to encourage today’s youth to consider their own walk through their daily lives. Bryce played the part of Ken, walking with the audience through his senior year at Central High School in 1957. Travis and Abria played multiple characters (14 between them), seamlessly transitioning from protestors to other significant figures in Ken’s life who shaped the person he is today. With just three stools as props, the high concept and low tech play intimately portrayed the emotions of the characters.
They say it takes walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to truly understand them. Imagine trying to go to school and being met by an angry mob denying your right to education, or being bullied for the color of your skin. By encouraging students and others to put themselves in the shoes of those who have been harmed—and those who sought to stick up for them—“Walk with Me” teaches empathy. Ken stood up to bullying during the Civil Rights Movement, but his courage can resonate with students today, who still face discrimination because of their race, gender, sexual preference, religious beliefs and more.
Reaching the Community
The Virginia students involved in “Walk with Me” report how they took for granted that people in their community came from different races and places as they grew up. But after the performance, they could see that “these wounds were very real”; that racism wasn’t just a chapter in their history textbook. People came up to them after the show in tears, wanting to share their own stories: African Americans who faced mistreatment; whites who stood by and did nothing, even when they knew it was wrong.
“[‘Walk With Me’] opened for me some emotions that I had as one of the students who integrated at Prince George High School. Those same emotions resurfaced during the play and brought closure to that point in time in history for me. I will never forget the impact that seeing that play has had on my life.” - Renee Williams, Assistant Superintendent, Prince George County Schools
One white woman in the audience shared that she would see race riots on the news at dinner time in the 1950s and 60s, but had no idea what to do—so she just kept eating. How many times have you seen war on the news and flipped the channel, or walked by a homeless person without a second glance? Some say if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing.
“Walk with Me” was performed at the high school and middle schools in Prince George, as well as a community church. Many of the audience members, having lived through the Civil Rights Movement, were deeply affected by the play, which served to bring closure to some. The performers also went to Petersburg, which has one of the most at-risk school districts in Virginia. After the play, community leaders discussed ills faced by the community, including racism, poverty and inequality.
Students and adults alike can relate to the message of doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. “Walk with Me” causes those who see it to question why they are going along with harmful behavior. The play gets to the heart of how we treat others, demonstrating how all of our attitudes and behaviors add up to something bigger than ourselves.
“‘One person can make a difference’ is one of the many messages I learned. We talked about how to treat others and do the right thing. Personally, this reinforced in me the moral struggle: do I go along with the status quo or stand up for what’s right?” - Travis Kennedy, student
Today Travis coordinates volunteers to work with patients in hospice. He has volunteers walk in the shoes of the dying person they will be visiting in order to teach empathy and respect. Bryce is at the Virginia Stage Company as a Cultivate Troupe Member, and Bray’n is a freshman at Old Dominion University. Stephanie now serves as assistant principal of J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Prince George.
The group plans to take the play to the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes’ headquarters in Fort Scott to perform for Kendall Reinhardt and Elizabeth Eckford, heroes who are no longer unsung.
“We are so drawn to the story of Ken Reinhardt and the Little Rock Nine because we all know, collectively, that it has the power to change peoples’ minds about certain things; certain problems that still exist in schools today. We have a really interesting opportunity to make a difference in that realm.” - Jacob Bryce Kephart, student
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