Submitted by Collette Watson
“I remember a time when I didn’t have lunch money. My mom didn’t have money to give me. So she handed me a bag of watches.
My mom was a hustler.”
Wednesday night in Tempe, eight local figures shared true personal stories at a monologue storytelling event titled “When I Fell In Love With Black Women,” presented by local podcasters Venus Clapback. The storytellers shared stories of unapologetic devotion to the women who had shaped their lives, in their own homes and beyond.
This event was staged as part of arts engagement activities for Detroit ‘67, a theatrical production at Tempe Center for the Arts directed by Ralph Remington and currently running through March 17. Detroit ‘67 was written by celebrated Black playwright and storyteller Dominique Morisseau, making the “When I Fell In Love With Black Women” theme a fitting tribute.
The night began with a powerful monologue on self-discovery by Ashley White, the renowned local vocalist and actress currently starring as “Bunny” in Detroit ‘67.
White was followed by popular poet Brotha Anthony, filmmaker Brian Watson, and sexual health educator Angelica Lindsey-Ali, each sharing odes to the women whose love and sacrifice shaped their journeys. Local artist Issim Dark of AZ Talking Drum Warriors accentuated the storytelling with rhythmic live djembe.
Between monologues, Venus Clapback podcast hosts “Coco” and “the Muse” (a.k.a. Collette Watson and Ebone Johnson) brought down the house with impromptu commentary, inviting church-style call-and-response from the eager audience. The two also outlined the mission of the event:
“Not to throw shade on any others, but to affirm love for Black women and disrupt the hate we face every day. To shift the culture forward in the Valley of the Sun.”
After an intermission featuring a live guitar-vocal performance by local soul man Moorez Packer, the program resumed with activist Brother Ali, co-founder of the Archwood Exchange Buy Black Marketplace. Ali shared an emotional recount of discovering inspiration for his economic empowerment work in strong relationships with his mother, wife and daughters.
Local fashion entrepreneur Anneke Marie of Herstori Wraps shared a hilarious story of first love, followed by a triumphant finale from event co-producer and nationally renowned arts educator Alexus Rhone.
The night’s stories represented almost every genre of affection: from motherhood to marriage, queer love, infatuation, friendship and beyond. Tellers described love-received, sacrifices-made, lessons-learned and victories-won, inspiring tears and laughs alike.
When the floor was opened for feedback, one audience member burst out, “Thank you for creating a space where we can just be our Black selves!”
Another asked for the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to his wife of 32 years, celebrating her 60th birthday.
The request sparked a key question from the Muse: “Which one we singing? The regular one or Stevie Wonder?”
The audience enthusiastically selected the iconic Stevie Wonder melody.
Also featured in the “When I Fell In Love With Black Women” event was local artist Therosia Reynolds, who live-painted an original canvas titled “She is a Universe.” That work went up for online auction immediately following the show and will bring the energy of the evening in to some lucky purchaser’s home.
The same can be said for the 110+ attendees, who seemed to carry a palpable joy with them as they exited the Lakeside Room at the close of the evening. Organizers hope those good vibes will create space in the Valley for Black women’s full humanity — their achievements, missteps, and everything in between.
In the night’s closing salute, Coco explained: “We can’t say we ‘love’ Black women if we don’t support and embrace them every day.”
For more information on Venus Clapback, visit www.venusclapback.com or follow @VenusClapback on all social media platforms. Stay tuned for details on When I Fell In Love With Black Women, part II, scheduled for March 27 at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix.
Tickets for Detroit ‘67 are available now at tempecenterforthearts.com or (480) 350-2822. The production runs through March 17, and Venus Clapback will host a special post-show discussion after the March 9 matinee.
View the When I Fell In Love with Black Women Photo Slideshow