Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux is passionate about what she does. The first time I called her, it didn’t matter that she was on a New York subway train on her way to a performance in Brooklyn. “I have a long ride so we can talk now,” she told me (as I marveled about her cell reception). Immediately, she began telling me about what visitors can expect from her show, “The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman” which she will perform Feb. 15, at Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday as the event celebrates Back History Month with “Emphasis Africa.”In Waddy-Thibodeaux’s interpretation of Harriet Tubman, visitors take a trip with her on what she calls the “New Underground Reading Railroad.” Waddy-Thibodeaux designed the program, which includes historical songs, to teach children and adults about literacy through the reenactment of this historical figure. “If you can’t read, you aren’t free,” says Waddy-Thibodeaux. “I tell the adults in the audience to turn around and help the children.” She is driven to do good work and promote literacy.
About eight minutes into our interview it seemed she hit a no-service area and we lost contact. I reached her the following day—as she was checking in to a hotel.
Waddy-Thibodeaux founded her one-woman production company, Flying Geese Productions, in 1993. Along with Harriet Tubman, she has portrayed such historical figures as Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Cathay Williams and Barbara Jordan. To write her scripts, she conducts hours of research at museums and libraries.
After a Hawai’i resident saw her performance as Tubman at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas, where Waddy-Thibodeaux is a resident artist, she was approached to include Honolulu on her tour. Her visit to Honolulu—her first—is part of her tour of reading clinics that includes such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Houston.
“I have learned that I could be the Harriet Tubman of today,” says Waddy-Thibodeaux. “Giving back is the only way I can receive. This is my purpose in life.” When asked why she portrays historical figures in her performances, she replies, “If you don’t know history, you are bound to repeat it.”
Waddy-Thibodeaux’s appearance in Honolulu is sponsored by The Links, Incorporated, one of the oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry. The Links has sponsored a Black History Month event at the Academy for more than a decade. She performs at the Honolulu Academy of Arts at noon, 1pm and 2pm.
Interested in being a “New Underground Reading Railroad” conductor or want to book Waddy-Thibodeaux at your institution? Go to: http://www.aflyinggeese.com.