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  • Myesha Jemison

'Bridges': A Play


Children Holding Hands. Photo credit: cherylholt via Pixabay.com (No attribution required).


CAST OF CHARACTERS


ALEXANDRIA - African American high school student and self-proclaimed responsible and learned citizen of the diaspora. She’s smart and reflective, but sometimes misses necessary nuance, even though she’s well-intentioned.

KOFI - Ghanaian American high school student – emphasis on the Ghanaian. He sees himself as an ambassador for Ghana, but sometimes also succumbs to the pressure of others’ expectations for him to be an ambassador – and even encyclopaedia - for all things Africa.

ZAVY - African American high school student who sometimes gets flustered when he feels like he’s the least knowledgeable in a space. He often pre-prepares his comments so that he doesn’t step on anyone's toes but still misses the mark sometimes. He is learning, but still has a way to go and a lot of grace to give himself.


‘BRIDGES’ is protected by copyright law and may not be performed without written permission from Myesha Jemison. To obtain permission, please send an email to mdj35@cam.ac.uk.


WARNING: No one shall make any changes to this play for the purpose of production. Publication of this play does now imply its availability for production.


‘BRIDGES’ was first submitted February 9, 2024 and is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. I recognise this play will be published following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland after it was struck by a cargo ship, killing six men: Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, Miguel Luna, Jose Mynor Lopez, Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, and Carlos Daniel Hernández. My heart is with their families whose loved ones left for work that day, never to return.

(Scene: A brightly lit high school café with natural light streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows on 3 of the 4 walls. Students leap around the space from table to table catching up with their friends. The sweet smell of salted butter overpowered by brown sugar in the fresh cornbread served alongside the fried catfish fillets on today’s lunch menu fills the air. The sound of hearty laughter, hot sauce bottles slamming to the table, and ice cubes swirling in glasses of iced tea accented with lemon fills the space. In the centre of the room, a group of friends – ALEXANDRIA, ZAVY, and KOFI engage in light-hearted banter. ALEXANDRIA and ZAVY sit on one side of the table, opposite KOFI and facing him. The hum of the cafeteria noise is overtaken by the ‘Moesha’ background music. ALEXANDRIA begins writing in her journal, while simultaneously reading her writing aloud to herself and the audience.)


ALEXANDRIA: Atlanta was always home for me until it wasn’t. After all, it’s the only place I’ve ever known. How could I call any other place home? My family has been here for generations. But, when I tell people that, they always question me. Where are you really from? Where are your roots? Okay, but what’s your country of origin? Those are the questions they’d beat me with. No answer I ever offered seemed sufficient. My parents were born in this country. So were my grandparents and their parents before them. Any further back and I’d be reaching into the time of slavery. When my people weren’t really considered people. When the documents ceased to have names and started to look like inventory ledgers. Negro male. 26 years old. African. 6 foot tall.


(ALEXANDRIA closes her notebook and stares away as the music fades and the hum of the cafeteria resumes.)


ZAVY: Alexandria? Alexandria, are you okay? 


ALEXANDRIA: Yeah, just thinking. If the two fish and five loaves of bread Jesus used to feed the 5,000 tasted like this catfish and cornbread, I would have been the 13th disciple.


ZAVY (caught with laughter, taking a sip from his iced tea to gather himself): Y’all excited for this trip? I always wanted to go to Africa. To see our people.


KOFI (pointing to a wall where a mural of a map of African nations in gradients ranging from desert sand tan to burnt orange to mud brown faced the audience): Africa is a continent, not a country. Where in Africa are we goin?


ZAVY (looking at the mural, but still unable to place himself without labels on each country): Continent, country, province, county, state, city, or whatever – I’m just excited to be goin. And you know I know it’s not a country, bruh. Just feels nice to name a continent. Makes it feel like the whole place belongs to me. Where everyone looks like me and ain’t embarrassed about it. Accra is bout to be life-changin.


ALEXANDRIA (showing off her knowledge): Here goes Zavy ‘Kwame Nkrumah’ Jones with his ‘because Africa was born in me’ speech. Diaspora this. Diaspora that. We get it bruh – you’re a Pan-Africanist.


KOFI (laughing): I’m weak – you’re always pickin on him. Leave Lil Kwame alone. Anyways, all of y’all might wanna chill on the excitement. Have y’all been following the news? The Atlanta-Accra  bridge failed inspection so they’ve limited travel across it for the foreseeable future.


ALEXANDRIA: It’s probably cause everybody and they mama was usin it for Detty December. Some people forget Accra exists until it’s time to party or peruse. It’s the same thing with Nairobi, and Abidjan, and Johannesburg, and Cape Town, and Dakar. And don’t even get me started on Lagos.


ALEXANDRIA (continuing): Everybody so busy being kings and queens they forget every monarchy has a responsibility to its subjects. Well. . . at least they should. Not everyone is livin like ‘Daddy dollar’. And it’s so messy to paint the narrative like that.


ZAVY: Ay ay ay, what’s wrong with us embracin our royalty?


KOFI: Ain’t nothin wrong with it. It’s just – I just don’t understand why y’all can’t see the same systems repeating themselves. We talk about European colonisation, East Asian neo-colonialism and every other new age practice and its impact on the continent. But when it comes to us we don’t see nothin. Don’t y’all think that’s disingenuous?


ZAVY: Oh, Lord, here he goes again. Always on one whenever us diasporans try to reconnect with the Motherland. You believe in Ujima right? Then why you won’t let us Black folks be together.


KOFI: Do you even know what Ujima means? It’s not just about Black folks being in the same place – I mean, that’s what we had on the continent before colonisation and even what we had in America during segregation. It’s about what we do together and the collective responsibility we assume. Our collective advancement and how we pursue that. Setting our own vision on our terms without trying to put selfish interests ahead of the group.


ALEXANDRIA: Yeah, it’s that and more. It’s also about not seeing progress as Black people being able to do the same oppressive, individualistic things white folks BEEN doing since time.


ZAVY: I don’t care what nobody say. I like my colonisers with a lil colour.


(ALL look his way before returning back to what they were doing.)


ZAVY (uncomfortable with the silence and embarrassed): Anyways, none of this will matter soon. The bridge is breaking down.


KOFI: Maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, some of my cousins in Accra say they’re kinda happy bout it. I was surprised at first – thought they didn’t want to see me and my family anymore. But once they explained their reasons… I kinda agreed with them.


ALEXANDRIA: Well, spill it. What did they say?


KOFI: They say that us diasporans don’t get it. That we have this entitlement to Accra – its land, culture, and benefits – but we don’t really care about the people who have been maintainin it in our absence. The people who are just trying to live their lives and provide for themselves and their families, but who – in some cases – can’t afford a decent place to live in the land they’ve known as home because of diaspora-driven gentrification. The people who ain’t just in Accra for a good time and who are having their land confiscated by African Americans who are ready to take by force. The people who are earnin and spendin in cedis and not earnin in dollars, and pounds, and euros and every other currency that places the exchange rate in their favour.


ZAVY: Okay, but that’s not even our fault. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo literally invited us back. He had that whole ‘Year of Return’ in 2019. He’s the one who marketed the 400-year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in the United States and as an opportunity for us African Americans to connect with our roots. He’s the one who allows for discounted visas for Detty December. He’s the one pushing this idea forward that Ghana is not only a tourist destination, but is also open as a home on the continent for us. Is it our fault for accepting the invitation?


KOFI: It’s not your fault. We understand you want to know where you’ve come from – to have a place outside of the Americas that you can identify as home. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, the way you engage is still hella problematic. You can’t just enter a place, claim land, and declare it as your homeland. When you think of Africa – or let’s just even start with Accra – what do you think of?


ZAVY: The sun is shining on my melanin and the waves are crashing. Oh! And the food! The kenkeh is kenkehin if you know what I mean (ZAVY chuckles). I think of the Motherland. I think of the place where my ancestors came from. A place where Black people – Africa’s children – can simply exist without pressures to conform to external standards.


ALEXANDRIA: I think of Sankofa! To get to where we’re headed, we have to acknowledge where we’ve been in order to set the vision for where we want to go. Accra is where that happens. Where Africa meets her diaspora. And there’s so many diasporans there already. It feels familiar - almost like still being in Atlanta in some ways. 


ZAVY: It’s a utopia compared to the dystopian world we live in. At least that’s how I see it.


KOFI: Y’all are still missing the point! Are you even trying to see what I’m saying?


ZAVY: What do you mean?


KOFI (visibly frustrated and practically shouting at this point): Every vision y’all outlined said nothing about the role of Ghanaians – their needs, desires and vision – or even how you hoped to contribute to Ghana’s future! All you talked about was your ‘utopia’ and what you wanted to gain from it! Don’t you see how selfish that is? Don’t you see how that’s not too different from other outsiders? 


(KOFI slams his fist on the table, splitting it in half.)


(ALEXANDRIA gets a notification on her phone.)


ALEXANDRIA (tapping her phone to show the hologram projecting her phone’s news app): Guys, look at this. The bridge collapsed.


ZAVY: Oh my word. Apparently, an Atlanta company had cargo it needed urgently from Accra, so they bribed the Department of Transport to allow them to still use the bridge. The driver died. Kojo was his name. He has a wife and children in Dansoman, Accra.


(ZAVY takes ALEXANDRIA’s phone. The sounds of students leaping and the tapping of hot sauce bottles come to a halting stop. Ice cubes in iced tea cease to swirl and the humming of teenage chatter can no longer be heard. Everyone but ALEXANDRIA stops moving. ALEXANDRIA opens her diary again and picks up her pen.)


ALEXANDRIA: The group went quiet again. None of us knew what to say. In the midst of us fantasising about our trip to Accra, someone else was risking a man’s life just to get cheap transport for their store’s inventory. Kojo’s life was sacrificed by a system that prioritises its personal interests over the well-being and best interests of Ghanaians. The bridge was meant to connect the diaspora, and while we were now connected geographically, we’re still just as or even more so separated culturally, economically, and in terms of our visions for individual and collective advancement. Are we any different from the Americo-Liberians who fled the United States to Liberia only to oppress the Indigenous Liberians? Perhaps we’re more alike than many of us would like to admit.


(ALEXANDRIA closes her diary and puts down her pen. The scene unfreezes and the students look from the hologram to each other and then to the map on the wall. A collective exhale brings the scene back to life.)


ALEXANDRIA: Kofi. . . how can we fix this? I just don’t want us to make the same mistakes anymore. I know that they’ll eventually reconstruct the bridge, but we have to do it right this time. Our future – all of our futures - depends on it.


(KOFI remains silent and turns to face the audience, apparently suddenly aware they are there. Then KOFI takes a seat at the lunch table, facing the audience. ZAVY does the same. A spotlight illuminates ALEXANDRIA. Once ALEXANDRIA’s monologue begins, they pull out a set of blocks, slowly and quietly building a bridge in the background).


ALEXANDRIA (turning to the audience, speaking to them as if they are fellow classmates): Do you know how we can fix this bridge? Yes you! Do you remember that class we took? The one with Professor Brodnax, remember? She said, ‘Understanding is not about gaining information about who had the power to do what to whom but about being able to see with the eyes of the heart the conditions under which we exist. With such understanding comes the possibility of radical change’.


Maybe this is our moment for radical change? Our time to generate the future we want to see. To join hands across the Atlantic – from Accra to Atlanta – and build the bridge we always needed. On our terms. Together. The bridge we wish the old bridge could have been.

Will you do your part to help us? Will you seek dialogue, understanding, reconciliation? Will you organise gatherings - bring people together? Will you amplify voices that deserve amplification? Or better yet, will you pass the mic because it’s not your place to speak?


The choice is ours. Rewrite our future with me.


When will you get started? The Atlanta-Accra connection yearns for repair - we can’t delay. Tomorrow, next week, next year?


Let’s not let history repeat itself. Our elders are nodding in approval, their eyes crinkling with knowing. The diaspora leans forward, hearts open. You, dear friend, are the fulcrum — the pivot upon which change pivots.


(KOFI and ZAVY finish building the bridge. And join ALEXANDRIA as she begins her last line. The spotlight moves to the constructed bridge behind them.)


So, step forth. For this bridge is yours to mend today. Will you extend your hand across the Atlantic?


(ALEXANDRIA extends her hand. ZAVY and KOFI extend their hands as well. Lights fade out.)



The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the Editorial Board, the Scholars’ Council, the Gates Cambridge Trust or the University of Cambridge.

 

Myesha ['21] investigates the history, ethics and sociology of technology as well as diasporic relations. She’s founder of Kindred Laboratories, Inc. and writes African diasporic fiction.



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