Global Issues TEDTalks

Be the change we want to see: Awele Makeba at TED2012

Posted by: Helen Walters

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Awele Makeba is here not simply to tell us a story. She’s here to act one. Her story takes place in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 2, 1955, and her hero is the courageous teenager Claudette Colvin, who stayed seated on a segregated bus even when instructed by the driver to make room for white people. “It’s my constitutional right,” Colvin had told the driver, timidly, who promptly called the police–and set off a chain of reactions that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

It’s a beautiful, lyrical performance that seems to strike a particular chord, especially with some of the children assembled in the audience. Channeling one of Colvin’s teachers, Makeba asks, “do you love your beautiful brown skin, children?” “Yes!” answer some of the kids, nodding.

The role of Claudette as an “upstander” teaches us important lessons that challenge us today. “What does it mean to be a participant, a repsonsible citizen in a democracy?” asks Makeba. Such conversations allow her to speak about the unspeakable, to discuss the ongoing racism that is a part of society. “I tell you this story today in honor of the legacy of young people who have come before as guideposts and signs,” she says. Claudette Colvin struck down the constitutionality of segregated seating. We should similarly work to be the change we want to see in the world.

Comments (5)

  • Pingback: Stories: Legacies of Who We Are | @Ted_Ed via @YouTube | Building Heroes

  • Felicity Wright commented on Mar 13 2012

    Where can I see/hear the talk?

  • commented on Mar 4 2012

    Ms. Makeba,
    We want to congratulate you for this inspiring and creative idea of combining both history (which some might consider dull) with drama, an art that is all about emotions and multi-colored thoughts.
    These innovative ideas have a lot of positive spill-overs, and as for ourselves, a platform stationed in the Middle East, we are in need of reviving that artistic, yet active spirit in our region. Your contribution would be greatly appreciated in the Middle East. Any thoughts about visiting the MIddle East and exploring its culture?

    • Awele Makeba commented on Mar 4 2012

      I would welcome an invitation to the Middle East to explore its culture, share mine/ my creative work as well as learn about the performing arts in the Middle East. I’ve been blessed to do this in Russia, Australia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, and Suriname (US Dept. of State) to name a few places. They all have been an amazing learning and cultural exchange experience.

  • Awele Makeba commented on Mar 3 2012

    Theatre asks: What does it mean to be human? and, What am I to do? As a teaching artist I decided that I wanted students to explore what it means to be an Agent of Change. It is my hope that they realize and act on their power to create positive social change in their communities right now.

    I planned a potent curriculum combining Freedom Movement history with drama to teach Theatre for Social Change. Students were able to learn their legacy through some of the narratives of youth who made significant contributions in advancing democracy in the U.S.

    February 2012, 55 of my middle school drama students presented their performances for African American History Month.

    In the past I’ve presented these oral histories through an interactive performance inter/nationally with dialogue with the participants (and some of the characters) so that we can explore the themes, big ideas, make links to contemporary history and issues playing out in our communities and on the world stage as we consider WHAT AM I TO DO?

    I would love to create an interactive multimedia book. –Awele (ah WAY lay)