When Anna Deavere Smith, an actress, playwright and college professor at New York University took the stage at the American Montessori Society Conference on March 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado, it was extremely timely. Anna spoke just before the March for Our Lives that guided protestors outside of the hotel and on to the capital building in downtown Denver. This gathering of thousands of people who came together to protest gun violence in our country included many of the 4,000 Montessori educators attending the. I was proud to represent Twin Parks Montessori Schools at the conference.
When Anna Deavere Smith took the stage, she was dressed in distressed worker’s clothing with a kerchief on her head, and a large handkerchief, in her pocket to wipe sweat that occasionally appeared on her brow. She was dressed in character, and represented many people’s voices as she recited parts of interviews done for her newest endeavor, “The Pipeline Project”. This play, “Notes from the Field”, represents hundreds of individuals who voice their experiences with the lack of opportunity and resources for young people living in poverty, or suffering from mental health. These circumstances often lead them to the criminal justice system. It is about the education to prison pipeline. It starts with expulsions and suspensions of mostly black, Latino and poor white children. It creates a situation where the children do not have a place to go.
Anna Deavere Smith spoke with the voice from the depths of an inmate with life sentence for murder. She spoke from the voice of a special education teacher who was helping a student with emotional outbursts. She spoke from the voice of Congressman, John Lewis. She told the audience that we can’t talk about injustice without talking about equal opportunities for education. Anna Deavere Smith believes that schools should be community facilities where students and families can obtain many types of services . She is concerned that with the current occurrences of violence in our schools that more schools will become more like prisons. Her questions for the country are, “are we going to invest in education or prisons? Are we going to invest in mental health or prisons?”