In this blog, I highlight the value of the arts for broader dissemination as a key theme in principle no. 8 (of 10): Balance Rigorous Research and Evaluation with Responsible Application for advancing black feminism in public health. Institutionalizing the arts in public health as “edutainment” challenges taken-for-granted notions of “legitimate” knowledge generation and sharing of evidence-based findings. In this blog, I provide a glimpse into how I used the arts as unconventional strategies to share my clinical research dissertation results in a format that would be relevant to non-academics.
In the spring of 2003, I earned a Ph.D. degree in Sociology from Georgia State University. Indeed, it was a proud moment for all to witness another milestone in my journey from poverty to PhD! While I embraced traditional methods for dissemination my dissertation research findings (presenting and publishing), I never lost the thought that more innovative strategies were needed for broader community engagement.
From a consciousness-raising standpoint, I had the “great” idea to repurpose my dissertation interviews into monologues and present them in a stage-play setting. The “thought” of a play began to take shape as a viable “thing” in March of 2006, when I attended the “Vagina Monologues” at Georgia State University to support one of my students. Somewhere between “hair down there” and “angry vagina” it hit me: “The Divine Intervention Monologues”!
Now, it makes sense that Dr. Holmes, a professional playwright and director (see her quote below) would call me a “thug”, since it was my radical mind that set out to remove all obstacles and defy all logic in a “Tyler Perry” spirit of no-prior-formal-training-in-playwright-directing-or-producing. However, I determined that somehow, someway, “The Divine Intervention Monologues” would serve as my unique way of sharing my clinical research with the communities who bear the brunt of the burdens of substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and homelessness among black women at a greater risk for HIV.
In my Tupac voice, “This one was for ‘dear momma’ who loved urban staged plays”, and even more, the Tyler Perry brand of storytelling through stage-play performances. In addition, I channeled my childhood performing arts experiences. However, the final confirmation set in after I immersed myself in scientific evidence indicating that oral traditions of storytelling and the performing arts were legitimate forms of knowledge dissemination.
So, in my own “thuggish” way of challenging systems and eliminating barriers, I set out to create a cost-effective, yet impactful way to bridge the gap between “scientific data dissemination” and “entertainment”, in hopes of empowering organizations in addressing one or more of the factors placing women and girls at a greater risk for HIV.
My overall vision for writing “The Divine Intervention Monologues” was to create a way to share the stories from my research with communities and stakeholders disproportionately impacted by the underlying issues that place black women at greater risk for HIV. Armed with $25,000.00 of my personal savings, some project management skills, and a team of friends who served admirably as volunteers, “The Divine Intervention Monologues” made its debut in January of 2007.
My fondest memory during the planning process was the day of casting, as well-over 100 talented actors camped out in a hotel lobby to get their chance to be part of this groundbreaking performance.
I have selected “lines” from the lived experiences of women from my dissertation study, as delivered by the actors cast to play them in the debut performance of “The Divine Intervention Monologues”.
At the writing of this blog, I am working on a production opportunity to share the stories in film or TV. If all goes well, I will change the quotes below to links to the full performances.
In the interim, I have selected a slice of their lives in the form of monologue lines that hopefully touches you personally or professionally, in a way that inspires you to engage marginalized people everywhere with a sense of urgency, but more than that, with a sense of empathy.
Since its debut in 2007, I have partnered with several organizations in producing “The Divine Intervention Monologues”. Listed in alphabetical order, the following organizations have provided financial and in-kind support for performances: AID Atlanta, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clark Atlanta University, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women: Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter, The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, Emory University, GMHC, Iris House, Mary Hall Freedom House, SisterLove, Savannah State University, and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
As exemplified in the letter from the CDC conference team below, evidence-based research can be legitimately shared using the performing arts.