This is the fourth post from our new column highlighting the voices and experiences of students of color on Brown’s campus. In this entry, Hayward Leach ’14 recalls his experience in the theater community at Brown.
In 1926, prominent Black poet Langston Hughes wrote: “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” Reading Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in Introduction to Africana Studies my freshman fall, I remember feeling simultaneously liberated and constrained by the concept of such a freedom. Hughes wrote this article with the intention of freeing the Negro artist to portray his own life, to not shy away from the complexities and potential dirt of his experience. In scholarship and artistic expression, however, I have continued to struggle with this original contradiction.
Do I have a responsibility to study and portray Black life in America? The easy, individualistic answer would be no. Art should be about one’s individual interests. If those interests align with a political agenda, so be it. On my thirteenth birthday, I sat in the corner of my school bus, on a trip to the Museum of Natural History. I don’t remember much about the ride other than the sticky seats, the din of kids voices rising above midtown traffic, and the gray of February that seems to mark a never ending winter. My birthdays always feel like secrets, moments of light built into the dark fabric of the mid-winter sky. On that bus, where no one thought of anything but snow slush and bus games, I relished in my secret. Somewhere along the ride, I scribbled down: “Art is the expression of the soul.”