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N.C. Black Storytellers enchant the audience at the National Black Theatre Festival

Pat “Mardia” Stepney (left) and Cheryl “Sparkle” Mosley entertain the audience with a story.

N.C. Black Storytellers enchant the audience at the National Black Theatre Festival
August 09
09:44 2019

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Everyone loves a good story and the audience who attended the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers event at the National Black Theatre Festival was no exception. From young children to older adults, everyone was ready to be swept away by tall tales and folklore.

The North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers, Inc., (NCABS) a part of the International Black Storytellers Association, has the goal of keeping alive the art form that embodies the history and cultures of Africans and African Americans, especially those in North Carolina. The group was founded by Pat “Mardia” Stepney and Beverly Fields Burnette is their “lifetime president.”  They have been together for over 40 years.

NCABS preserves, protects, and passes on the historical truths, folklore, legends, myths, and fables important to African American traditions. Members represent the entire state of North Carolina, from the Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks, and their members range from teachers, ministers and musicians, to librarians, flight attendants, and others.

The event opened with the rhythmic beating of an African drum as the members entered the stage and took their seats. After a warm welcome by Beverly Fields Burnette, Pat “Mardia” Stepney began weaving the first tale, telling the audience the story of Genesis from the perspective of the animals that were on a darkened earth. She mesmerized both the children and the adults as she told about the challenges put to the animals by the king until successfully meeting those challenges and light arrived on earth. How do we know? By the crowing of the rooster each morning that brings light to our day, just like the light of the first day was brought by the “Son.”

Currie Williams, “The Apple Lady,” dressed in the garb of a Native American, explained that her tale was about the Indian side of her family, as she is a descendent of her great-great-grandfather. She literally danced her way through her story to the audience’s delight.

Roy “Papa” Harris talked about telling stories in just six words and said you can hear all types of stories at family reunions because “gossipin’ is storytelling.”

Pinkie Struther from Fuquay Varina talked about stories that come from East Africa and how they are often used as a way to teach morals. When listening to these stories, you should ask yourself, “What lesson did I learn?”

One of most humorous stories was about Lexington barbecue … well, kind of. Oba Kunleigh, told the story of how we came to eat meat. In the beginning, meat was cooked over fires and then the meat was stripped off and just the bones were eaten. Not only did he tell the tale, he acted it out in such a way that the audience could almost believe it really happened and that really was how barbecue came to be.

More storytellers continued to enthrall the audience, making them laugh, sing along, and for a short time be transported to another world, one of the storytellers’ making.

Teresa Love sat with her seven-year-old son, Anthony (AJ) Washington. She has been bringing him to the NBTF since he was a baby and the storytelling is one of their favorite activities. She appreciates the festival for introducing African culture through these stories and said, “It adds richness to our culture.”

Also enjoying the event was Carolyn Anna Steele from Dayton, Ohio, who has been coming to the festival since 1989. She said she loves theatre and is also a writer and producer for the Readers Theatre in Dayton.

With the amazing talent of these storytellers and their creativity in crafting stories that both entertain and teach lessons, this genre should continue to grow and gain more recognition in the future.

For more information on the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers, or to book them for a special event, go to http://www.ncabstellers.org/ or email mardia6144@nullyahoo.com.

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