This Altamonte playwright is channeling a civil rights icon to encourage citizens nationwide – and here in our community – to embrace their right to vote
Mzuri Moyo Aimbaye is on a mission, as she has been for nearly two decades, to motivate people to exercise their right to vote.
The Altamonte Springs resident gets her message across in a creative way – via a one-woman play she penned about civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Mzuri’s award-winning show combines compelling storytelling, nostalgic songs, and a video montage to highlight the importance of civic participation and tell Fannie Lou’s story of perseverance in the face of adversity.
The daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, Fannie Lou became an activist in her mid-40s and worked diligently in the 1960s and early ‘70s to encourage black people to register to vote. Along the way, she was harassed, arrested, and brutally beaten. She died in 1977 of breast cancer at the age of 59 and was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Mzuri was inspired to write The Fannie Lou Hamer Story – in which she also stars – after seeing a television show about the late activist in the 1990s. A nurse and singer at the time, Mzuri spent about 10 years crafting the play. She began performing the show in the New York City area in 2001 and has presented the play at theaters, churches, conventions, colleges, and universities across the country for the past 19 years.
“What I want to do is make people go to the polls,” Mzuri says. “I want people to become more participatory in decision-making and lawmaking. That is what this is all about. I want to move people to action.”
The 90-minute play is the flagship show of Mzuri’s nonprofit production company, Healing Through the Sound of Music, which strives to educate and entertain audiences with history-based fare that highlights the accomplishments of women of color. The powerful show is directed by Byron C. Saunders and produced by Mzuri’s husband, Djehuty Se Hotep.
Mzuri, a New Jersey native, studied acting in New York and has performed as a vocalist across the United States, as well as in Paris and Rome. In 2011, she was invited to perform with the New York City Symphony at the United Nations to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “Still I Rise,” the moving song she sang, is also featured in her play.
A New Way to Play
Live performances of The Fannie Lou Hamer Story have been on hold the past few months because of the pandemic, but Mzuri recently gave a virtual performance of selected scenes and songs from the show.
The abbreviated version of the play was recorded at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center (WDPAC) in Sanford and livestreamed on social media on Juneteenth (June 19), a holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Mzuri’s impassioned performance as Fannie Lou is complemented by her strong delivery of songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
“Mzuri is a very, very good singer, and she’s got an incredible vocal range,” says Steve Nelson, WDPAC’s treasurer. “I embrace the play’s message about the importance of voter registration, and I love the messenger.”
Although Fannie Lou has been gone for decades, her name and words have been in the spotlight of late because of police brutality incidents and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter social-justice movement. The activist’s most famous quotes include “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
“Fannie Lou’s story is about human dignity and freedom, and that has never stopped being relevant,” Mzuri says. “We have to do something to make a difference. We need everybody to go out and vote – not just for the presidential election, but for all elections – because that is where your power lies. Your power is in your vote.”
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