‘From Kings to Thugs’ a thought-provoking show

Jason Cuevas, Clarion staff

The Mitby Theater recently hosted a presentation of “From Kings to Thugs to Presidents.” The live performance used spoken-word poetry mixed with dance, photographs and a bit of comedy to convey a message about black history with a specific focus on black urban violence. The results were both thought provoking and entertaining.

The play is the brainchild of Muhibb Dyer, a Milwaukee-based community activist. Ten years in the making, it is a powerful presentation that has obvious ties to Dyer’s own life. While in no way vulgar, there are no punches held back when expressing the reality of many African-Americans’ urban plight.

In one performance, a young girl and a wood coffin greet the audience and immediately throw the emotion into high gear. A slide show of the many young people killed in urban violence makes it clear that this takes place in reality. What follows is a fast-paced ride starting with Egyptian kings and ending with the first African-American president.

Dyer conveys strength and passion with his poetry. He has a strong, clear voice that makes one question if a microphone is even needed. He is quite talented both as a poet and a spoken-word performing artist. His rhymes have perfect rhythm, which have you casually letting the information flow to you while, at the same time, impacting with a deep message.

Amera Grahm, Dyer’s 14-year-old goddaughter, performs dance numbers throughout. She displays stage maturity far beyond her years. She has what is perhaps the most emotional and gripping scene in the entire presentation with a slow modern dance to Billy Holiday’s vivid song “Strange Fruit” while numerous pictures of lynching are displayed in the background. The audience perceives an emotional imagery that words can barely fulfill.

Comedian D-Rock makes an appearance in the middle of the show to add a bit of lighthearted humor. He displays an upbeat and goofy persona, but still makes sure to leave the audience with a message about really paying attention to what you are doing.

The messages are strong. The performance clearly states that slavery and hate were part of the problem in leading to our current violent state. It also has no reservations in mocking media stars such as Lil’ Wayne and putting much of the blame on the thug and pimp culture so prevalent today. A society where some young men are almost proud to go to jail and simply expect to have memorials set up for them in their youth.

The memorial t-shirt becomes an ongoing theme throughout the performance, starting with Dyers displaying one for his own godson Preston. Dyer and D-Rock both express dismay at an attitude where people make a T-shirt and set up a memorial corner, but don’t actually fix any of the issues that cause these deaths to begin with.

The last message conveyed is one of hope. Despite all the violence and death that has been discussed there is the idea that anything is still possible. President Obama is held up as an example that there really are no limitations on where someone’s future can go. This performance is not about complaining, but about changing.

After the performance finished Dyer, D-Rock and Grahm all came on stage for a question-and-answer session. They were happy to stay and answer questions until every single person had been answered.

Dyer touched on how his own life in Milwaukee saw so many people close to him dead or in jail. He also spoke about a molestation experience he suffered as a child, something he has only gone public with in the last year. The session was as captivating as any part of the show, and the audience seemed genuinely intrigued and in touch with Dyer emotionally. Grade-schoolers through middle-aged adults asked questions and all seemed to have been impacted.

“From Kings to Thugs to Presidents” regularly performs throughout Wisconsin at schools and social events. More information can be found at Dyer’s website www.muhibbdyer.com.

The performance was brought to campus by Madison College’s United Common Ground, a student organization focusing on diversity and multiculturalism.