[caption id="attachment_17152" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Filmmaker Gregory Morris said he wants to use art to find solutions. "The issues and desires are the same no matter where we live," said Morris. "We're more similar than different. A real parent will do anything to have the best for their kids, no matter what the circumstances."[/caption]
By Michael J. Mika
Gregory Morris, an L.A. filmmaker who moved to Wilmington 15 years ago, is excited about the premiere of his latest work that he describes as "street participatory acting to bring attention to the jobless crisis in the city."
"Black Jobs Matter, A Wilmington Experiment" will premiere Feb. 25 at the Baby Grand Theater in Wilmington.
Morris said the conceptual drama "is a play in which we take a brief look at three examples at what it is like to be unemployed and black in the city of Wilmington. It's like "˜The Wire' (an HBO series about life in Baltimore) "¦ We're literally going to put the streets on stage," he said.
As a writer Morris has dedicated himself to writing about the streets. He uses actors from the neighborhood, who get the gigs, not through auditions, but observations Morris makes about them. The troupe of five actors is currently going through rehearsals at various venues in the city
"The climate in the city is very combustible for several reasons: Disenfranchisement with police that many residents have and complaints about civic and local government. But the big thing is the unemployment situation, more than 9,000 in the city," Morris said.
He cites the lack of jobs, job opportunities and no real network to pull from as reasons for the high unemployment.
"I can speak to what it's like to be a father and not have enough money to take care of them. Unemployment forces you to negotiate the things that you need. It affects a person's self esteem," he said. The vignettes in the play will show examples of this negotiation.
Morris, also a professor of English at Wilmington University, holds a master's degree in fine arts. He has been writing and producing plays and films on life in the "hood" for several years. He participated in last month's Wilmington Black Film Festival with another work called "20 Minutes."
The Black Jobs Matter project all started with a Morris presentation to the Caesar Rodney Rotary club. After his presentation he was asked what could be done about the crime in Wilmington.
"I said, if you want to see it plummet, provide jobs for the black and brown men in the city. If the men in the community are working it will stabilize the home first, and then the community," he recalls.
After the meeting, Bob Elder, a former president of two Delaware banks, and marketing director of the Santora CPA Group, invited him for coffee and they started a project with ABC to find five men from the city who could work in construction, and get a chance to go through the apprenticeship program. Four of the five completed the training.
Elder brought on some more corporate supporters and Alan Levin, a legendary Delaware businessman, who also donated one night's tickets to the Baby Grand, and the project took off.
Although invites have been sent to all the Wilmington mayoral candidates, Morris said he intends to keep the non-partisan. Delaware's twin poet laureates, Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, will open the evening with their poem "It's Not Illegal to Dream" which he says is the perfect preface to the play.
The play, with a $5,000 production budget, will take about 45 minutes to run. Once it concludes, Morris will take the stage for a few minutes, to talk about the call to action - an enterprise zone for the three most crime-ridden city ZIP Codes that encourages new business with tax breaks if they hire from the neighborhood for three years.
Critical to that, however, is also a call to make Delaware a Right to Work state so companies will be encouraged to come in.
Gov. Jack Markell will conclude the evening with brief remarks. Morris' hope is that conversation continues as the crowd leaves the theater, but said he didn't want the event to turn into a town hall meeting with comments from all the candidates, etc.
"The hero to this situation will be sitting in this room," Morris said.
After the Wilmington showing, the troupe will also perform in Dover and Sussex County.
"In five years, I'd like to see a majority of the men in Wilmington working. It will have a cascading effect "¦ We need the African American men in the city to have a livable wage so they can take care of their families."