The Healing is in the Work
No Justice, No Peace. By: Joel Ferrell
I moved to New York City on a stormy March day in 1982. I had graduated the University of Texas at Austin after having grown up on the east side of Fort Worth, Texas. I arrived at La Guardia airport with very little money, few established friends in NYC, and a “site unseen” sublet apartment that turned out to be something out of a Cohen Brothers comedy. I had decided to move to New York City to pursue a career in theater, though I now recognize the move had every bit as much to do with coming out as a Gay man.
For a bit of comic context, progressive parents raised me, Dad a Methodist minister and Mom an urban school teacher. Both were committed to social and racial justice and therefore, lived in a bit of quiet, liberal espionage in our conservative community. You might think that I felt safe to come out to my family and close friends, but I was the classic; “never upset or disappoint anyone, especially your parents” kind of kid, so I never spoke of or acted on my sexuality for 21 glamorous years. If you’ve never kept a giant secret for 21 years, trust me, it messes with your head.
So, I move to NYC, still in the closet and planning to stay that way, and within three months I was hired for a Broadway national tour and was making decent money, had a whole new set of entertaining, eccentric friends, and was singing and dancing my way across America. 6 months later, much to my own surprise, I was out of the closet (shocking I know) and falling in love with a cast mate ten years my senior. Another 6 months and that cast-mate was my boyfriend and I had an apartment of my own in NYC. Things had moved fast, sometimes so fast I nearly imploded, but it was also the most genuine I had ever felt. Then my boyfriend was diagnosed with HIV.
Now I could spend a few thousand paragraphs telling you about the 80’s as a young, frightened, Gay male in show business in New York City, but I’m not going to now. Suffice to say it was more terrifying than anything my dramatic, imaginative brain had ever conjured, and I was really dramatic.
I bring this up because I allowed something to happen during that decade that I’m not proud of; I gave myself a pass regarding other people’s suffering. I was forty before I didn’t think daily about dying young or losing a dear friend, so I buried my head and avoided being a real ally to other important forms of suffering and bias. In retrospect, I wish I had reached out, realized more fully how connected all bias really is, and leaned into the things my family had gifted me; a desire to support and love any human who is marginalized and end violence and oppression.
When Black Lives Matter first launched I was supportive, but I didn’t yet realize the full brilliance of that organization. By not focusing attention to one charismatic leader, staying nimble, and embracing allies, BLM has been able to keep the focus on the cause, justice. Much like the “Occupy” movement (though it never quite took hold nationally), BLM does not rely on a cult of personality, they just hammer home the message; no American is free until Black Americans are free. No American is safe until Black Americans are safe. We are not the America we desperately wish to be (or pretend to wish to be) if any of us are marginalized, manipulated, or declared “second class”. Turns out, whether we’re talking about our shameful history of violent racism, women’s suffrage, or demonizing LGBTQ citizens, there is no time to bury your head or disconnect from the very necessary work of democratic citizenship, even if you’re hurting. The healing is in the work, the organizing, and the loving.
I pray we are watching a re-birth of what early union pioneers, women, and especially people of color have known for centuries; organize, strategize, and rely on dependable allies. I can see now where I got lost; a younger generation of African American and LatinX citizens have shown me that. They have also inspired me, strengthened me, and I am happy to step aside and follow the young leaders of a new American Revolution. No justice, no peace.
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JOEL FERRELL is a seasoned director and choreographer based in Dallas, Texas. He is the former Associate Artistic Director at Dallas Theater Center, where his directing credits include: Romeo and Juliet, Clybourne Park, Red, God of Carnage, Dividing the Estate, reasons to be pretty, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later; Cotton Patch Gospel, The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret, Hairspray, Frankenstein, The Christians, Steel Magnolias, Dreamgirls, and A Christmas Carol.
Other Dallas area credits include: Gruesome Playground Injuries, Othello, The Necessities (Second Thought Theatre); Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Baltimore Waltz (Stage West); Love’s Labor’s Lost, Comedy Of Errors (Trinity Shakespeare Festival), and Sweeney Todd and One Man, Two Governors (Circle Theater). Mr. Ferrell has directed and choreographed extensively around the country for Denver Center Theater, Portland Center Stage, North Shore Music Theater, and many more. Mr. Ferrell is the former Artistic Director of Casa Manana Musicals in Fort Worth, Texas (1996 to 2001) where he directed over 40 productions.
He has served as adjunct theater faculty for Southern Methodist University, Texas Weslyan University, and The University of North Texas, as well as teaching regularly for Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. His acting credits include Broadway National tours, regional theater, television and film, most recently appearing in the Dallas produced film, Final Dress.
Ferrell is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a proud member of Society of Directors and Choreographers and Actor’s Equity Association.