On Friday May 10, 2019, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office hosted “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments,” part of the August Wilson Red Door Project.
This was a mandatory event for all deputy district attorneys. Support staff, victim advocates and district attorney investigators were also invited to attend.
As stated on its website, the mission of the August Wilson Red Door Project is to change the racial ecology of Portland through the arts. “Hands Up” is a powerful set of monologues commissioned by The New Black Fest in the wake of police shootings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and others. Seven black playwrights were commissioned to write monologues that explore their feelings about the well-being of black people in a culture of institutional profiling.
All of the monologues were created based on the real world experiences of the playwrights.
District Attorney Rod Underhill first saw a “Hands Up” monologue in October 2018 at the Muslim Educational Trust for the third annual Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities event.
“These are powerful stories that allow us to have important discussions about equity and diversity within the criminal justice system,” DA Underhill said.
This was the first time that a district attorney’s office in Oregon has hosted “Hands Up” for employees. The performance has also been presented to the Portland Police Bureau.
“I appreciated that the monologues created a space for all of us to reflect. For some, they exposed new ideas and concepts. For others, they were an unearthing of concepts that we had been taught earlier in life but that may have become muted over time. The monologues forced us to listen to and acknowledge the experience of black Americans,” said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Leslie Wu.
The Red Door Project has toured “Hands Up” throughout Portland and the entire state. In an interview with KBOO Community Radio, Kevin Jones, the co-founder and artistic director of the August Wilson Red Door Project, said the program “is really about healing” as a culture and to face the challenges our community faces.
“People think this is just going to be ‘oh, you know, some black people on stage being mad about the police’ and it’s not that at all. People walk away feeling enlightened by the experience because we take them on a journey – that black experience in a way that is very powerful and very effective,” Jones said to KBOO Radio.
The post monologue discussions allowed for the members of the District Attorney’s Office to answer questions posed by the August Wilson Red Door Project and to reflect on the monologues. The feedback was open and honest.
“We are better today than we were yesterday after seeing Hands Up,” DA Underhill said. “And we will be better tomorrow.”