Br(OK)en Genius is a Call to Action

By Freesia McKee

The poetry/photography/theatre hybrid performance Br(OK)en Genius arrives at an important point in our history – activists across the country are expanding the movement for racial and economic justice in 2014.

These activists respond to the newest iteration of a painfully redundant history – white police officer Darren Wilson continues to face no formal consequences for killing the black teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Deandre Joshua, a 20-year old witness, was found dead in Ferguson just a few days ago.

In Milwaukee we have our own tragedies. Earlier this year, Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old man, was killed by a police officer in Red Arrow Park. Like the Browns, the Hamilton family, including Dontre’s mother Maria, have shown relentless drive to seek justice for their son.

I cannot write about Br(OK)en Genius without mentioning Mike, Deandre, and Dontre (and Trayvon, and Oscar, and Bo, and Sean, and Amadou, and…) because the context into which Christopher McIntyre Perceptions birthedBr(OK)en Genius highlights its necessity. Activism is its own kind of art. Real art engages with the most critical situations of our time.

Br(OK)en Genius amplified the voices of several local poets and musicians to tell stories about Milwaukee – stories of divided communities, of white flight, of how poverty can force a person to make difficult choices, and of “the highway they built through our Bronzeville,” of the destructive assumptions that white suburban people make about urban places they never actually visit as they zoom on this highway from one suburb to another.

The South Milwaukee PAC (a beautiful theatre, and definitely a hidden gem of a venue,) was a great choice. Perceptions projected his black and white photographs above the stages to serves as a guiding narrative. Each of the poets spoke to the photograph at hand.

The original music for this show was a compelling, simple score of primarily a violin and keyboard. I felt that sometimes the score veered off track and distracted a bit from the poets, but there were moments – especially when poets added vocal harmonies – where the whole room had a special opportunity to lean into the message of the show.

I am interested in seeing what Perceptions and his collaborators take on next. Br(OK)en Genius serves as a call for us to seize the opportunity for racial and economic justice in Milwaukee, Ferguson, and beyond.