On Accepting The Bertolt Brecht Award At Union Theological Seminary

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Friday evening, February 24, 2012

Dear friends, I accept this award with pride but also with humility. It is a special honor to share it with Esther Cooper Jackson, a stalwart freedom fighter who has labored long in the vineyards for justice, dignity, equality  for the human rights of African and diasporan Africans.

Actors equity association gave me their Paul Robeson award almost 20 years ago. Paul Robeson and Bertolt Brecht have played influential roles in my development as an artist and in my journey as a human being working in theatre.  I take great pride in calling myself a cultural worker.

Shiba Russell, the NBC news anchor interviewed me a week ago on camera because she called me an unsung iconic heroine of theatre and black history. I like being called an icon but calling myself a cultural worker does not bring Hollywood contracts or running parts on daytime television or agents and managers, who send me in to read for Broadway roles, featured or starring or understudy or standby. If it’s a union contract, I will gladly work. I hope the NBC black history profile will air before the end of the month. Look for it on either the noon hour or 5 pm news slot.

Let us go back to the child I was going to Public School 10 and Junior High school 81 and Wadleigh, the girls only, high school in central Harlem. That black child had no understanding of the path that she was traveling. The present day octogenarian woman that I am can see the path clearly from the vantage point of time and distance, age and experience.

There is a difference between the path and the journey – the journey is the day to day, year to year, decade to decade experience which for me grew to become a deep abiding sense of identity and solidarity with all suffering peoples of the world and most particularly with women of the world.

Bertolt Brecht said “art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

Paul Robeson said “the artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery”.

Paul made his choice and his courage helped me make mine.
Dear friends, let us stay on the move as we rededicate ourselves to the long, bitter but beautiful struggle for a just world, a peaceful world. Peace is our human right. we must not allow the forces of evil to take our human right for peace away from us.

Fight for peace.
Fight for the unborn children.
Fight for the spirits of our ancestors
Our ancestors from the inquisition,
From the middle passage,
From Hiroshima and Nagasaki
From all the brutalities that human beings through greed and ignorance have inflicted on one another down through the ages.
Peace is our human right
Speak up for peace
Speak out for peace
Stand up for peace
Because if we don’t, the evil, money grubbing profit making forces of imperialism and capitalism will roll all over us.

With that charge I gratefully accept this Bertolt Brecht award and end my remarks with this poem of Walt Whitman “So Long” from “Leaves of Grass.”

– Vinie Burrows

2009_10_20vinie

for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photo: Eva-Lee Baird