Channeling Shirley Chisholm

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Ingrid Griffith portrays Shirley Chisholm in her one-woman show. Photo by Bernadette Wills.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. In 1972, she became the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

“Unbossed & Unbowed” is an immersive and interactive solo show about Chisholm, the Brooklyn-born daughter of Caribbean parents who, in the 1960s and ’70s, was on a mission. They called her the Black Joan of Arc. She called herself “Fighting Shirley” as she faced off against the political machine in the name of justice. Written and performed by Ingrid Griffith, a performer, playwright and teaching artist of Guyanese heritage who moved to the United States at age 12, “Unbossed & Unbowed” will be presented by the East Hampton Library in a virtual format on Saturday, March 27.

“I’ve been moved to write and share Shirley Chisholm’s story in the hope that more people will become aware of her contributions and appreciate how her voice resonates today,” said Griffith, who has appeared in off-Broadway theatrical productions and has been performing her award-winning solo show, “Demerara Gold,” about a Caribbean girl’s immigrant experience, for the past five years throughout the United States and abroad. “I’m drawn to tell stories about the immigrant experience, being an outsider, and daring to be one’s self. I’m interested in social norms and cultural barriers that keep girls and women down, and in stories that promote and celebrate girls and women’s empowerment.”

Using humor, history and a call for present day activism, in “Unbossed & Unbowed,” Shirley Chisholm is back with a forthright crispness and clarity that were distinctly her own, inviting audiences to consider and redefine personal success and to understand the power of social commitment. “Unbossed & Unbowed” journeys back to Chisholm’s childhood to show how race and gender determined how far she would go in life, why she chose to fight for the disenfranchised and what it took for her to rise. Her parents arrived in the United States in the early 1920s. By the end of the decade, when the Depression hit, in order to make ends meet they decided to send 3-year old Shirley and her younger siblings to live with their maternal grandmother in Barbados. Shirley’s years in Barbados reinforced her Caribbean heritage, which manifested itself in her bearing and speech pattern.

Griffith’s show covers the period from when segregation in the United States was the law to the time it was outlawed, when Black soldiers were sent to fight in World War II and Vietnam, yet were still treated as second-class citizens upon their return. It was an era when great numbers of Black people were migrating from the South to the North only to find similar inequities in their new home.

West Indians (Caribbeans), like Chisholm’s parents, also migrated to the United States in droves and they, too, felt racial barriers and racist attitudes. “Unbossed & Unbowed” dramatizes the civil rights era, the unrest of the 1960s, the patriarchal system and the all-boys political network Chisholm was up against — many themes we still see in the politics of today.

Griffith notes that she hopes “Unbossed & Unbowed” will inspire the disenfranchised to connect with those who benefit from the status quo, helping them to examine the flaws in our system and reconsider what’s best for humankind.

The show will be presented by East Hampton Library on Saturday, March 27, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. followed by a Q&A. Admission is free. Register for the performance by calling 631-324-0222 extension 3 or visit easthamptonlibrary.org.

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