I have the distinct pleasure of introducing someone who surely embodies what we gather in honor of tonight – leadership and heroism in service of the Upper Valley—and for that, on behalf of the Board of Directors of JAG Productions, for which I serve as a co-chair along with Jackie Fischer, I’d like to express deep gratitude to Vital Communities. Jarvis Antonio Green is indeed a hero, whose servant leadership means so much to the Upper Valley, but also to the world.
Simply put, to aspire to build a nationally recognized black theatre company in New England’s Upper Valley, or really any intensely racially homogenous region of this country, requires heroism! Jarvis has launched an arts organization whose mission is deeper than mere entertainment—and I suspect we are here to celebrate more than his exceptional work on the stage. One might argue that perhaps all theatre is created to challenge our thinking, allowing us to consider our lives and choices through the eyes of richly drawn characters on the stage, screen or page. JAG Productions, however, exists to excite intellectual engagement and to catalyze a communal shift to more empathy, compassion and love through the lens of the African America experience… and that, I’d argue, is a far less traveled path, especially in communities with very few black residents.
The path is one fraught with constantly walking the fine line of integrity and being comfortable in the others’ discomfort. A lot can happen during a production, but that is often the starting point for much of our audience when it comes to seeing the world through a more colorful lens as it relates to identity. The arduous path has meant deciding how deep to go while trying to make wealthy white donors feel their interests are served…It has meant persevering in the face of emails that ask that he not be so black, that he not tell the story of indigenous people who were dispossessed of the land that our community has claimed, that he just focus on making us all feel good… The pressure to shape the very mission of the organization around providing comfort for those who might feel guilt and defensiveness under the pressure of the moment and the art is palpable. But rather than aggressiveness or self-righteousness in these moments, I see a leader in Jarvis who is committed to telling stories that challenge us, but also building community around the trauma of the past and possibility of the future.
When I think of Jarvis a few ideas come to mind and remain in focus: Vision. Courage. And Love.
With regard to Vision – I am constantly inspired by Jarvis’ ability to see opportunity, to see potential and possibility when it seems nothing is there. With regard to Courage – I have seen Jarvis’ speak truth in the face of power and the threat of erasure And Love. I have seen firsthand that Love powers Jarvis. Allow me to explain, because terms matter. When I speak of love, I am not referring to romantic love, but rather soul Love, which, when paired with Faith fuel the very brightest stars who hold up our community and seem to have an unending energy to struggle for what could be and what should be, when most of us are frustrated and content to deal with how things are right now. Love is a source that unlike time and energy, is not a scarce resource. To see Jarvis give unconditionally, to see him so willing to teach and to learn, to engage with anyone, to draw people in (black, white, any shade of brown, gay, straight, cis, trans, inter, muslim, atheist, humanists, womanist, whatever)… Jarvis has a way of creating space that allows others to be more free… it is, simply put, a gift.
I am so honored to be here among my fellow Board Members from JAG Productions and to have the chance to publicly thank you for your leadership and impact in the Upper Valley and to celebrate with you tonight, Jarvis! For one who gives so much, I hope that you know that you too, are loved!