National Black Theatre Festival Celebrity Co-Chair Tonya Pinkins is passionate about her craft, as is evidenced by the host of accolades – everything from Tony and Drama Desk awards to Audelcos – she has received over the course of her more than three-decade long career.
Off stage, Pinkins, who was hailed as “one of 10 women in America who will take your breath away” by Oprah Winfrey, is equally passionate about social justice.
During a NBTF press conference Monday, Pinkins alluded to the Trayvon Martin homicide, and the subsequent acquittal of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
On the homepage of her Web site, www.tonyapinkins.com, she raged against the murders of Martin, and that of a lesser-known victim, 18 year-old Jett Gerald Higham, a teen who was gunned down in Richmond, Va. in what police believe was a robbery gone bad last month. The teen was headed out to the store to pick up a snack when the tragedy occurred, reports say.
“Going out for ‘a drink and snack’ has become synonymous with the murder of young Black men. Trayvon Martin and on July 2, 2013 Jett Gerald Higham was gunned down for $4 and an iPhone,” Pinkins wrote on her webpage after learning of Higham’s death. “They didn’t even take the loot.”
Pinkins said Monday that the Zimmerman verdict is indicative of a much larger issue: society’s treatment of black men.
“Trayvon is a symbol of millions of other blacks who this is happening to on a daily basis,” she declared. “So I hope this is a wake up call for us.”
Pinkins’ interest in justice prompted her to attend law school, before putting her command for oration to work as a performer.
“My professors told me, ‘You’re going to be a great lawyer because you’re a great actress,’” she related. “I realized then that the truth had no place in the law.”
A strong advocate for women and children and an outspoken opponent of domestic violence, the former “All My Children” star is no stranger to the courtroom. Though she set her pursuit of a juris doctorate aside, Pinkins, a mother of four, says she likes to go it alone when it comes to courtroom battles. As a self-represented litigant, she has won many victories in court – all aimed at uplifting the downtrodden and righting wrongs.
She is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the booster club at her daughter’s school, Centennial High School, which Pinkins says tried to use false claims to oust her as president. Pinkins also represented herself in a highly-publicized child custody suit in the 1990s.
“I’m always representing myself. I think I’ve probably had as much trial experience as most licensed, practicing lawyers,” she said. “…I feel very strongly about the right to self representation that was put in our Constitution. I think the right of self representation was put into the Constitution for a reason, and I’m very active on that.”
Pinkins, a critically acclaimed Broadway superstar, is appearing this week in her one-woman musical show, “Tonya Pinkins Unplugged.” Her cabaret-style show is a hit in the Big Apple, but Pinkins said she has devised a special set for the NBTF, which she says will mark the first time she has done her show before a predominately black audience.
“Tonya Pinkins Unplugged” will be staged in the Gaines Ballroom of the Embassy Suites from Wednesday, July 31 through Saturday, Aug. 3 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at the Benton Convention Center Box Office or at the venue before non-sold-out shows.