NEW YORK (August 2, 2021) - “Attica in 1971 is a picture of what can happen to you. It’s not just the past. It’s the present. It’s the future. It’s all of us.” These are the words of Carlos Roche, a 79-year-old survivor of the Attica Prison massacre, who will be introducing a play about the 1971 prison uprising staged by formerly incarcerated actors and musicians to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the event and raise awareness about its relevance to the current outbreak of state violence against communities of color.
Entitled “Echoes of Attica,” the music/theater performance is based on court transcripts, recently released FBI files, and interviews with men who survived the assault in which 29 incarcerated men were shot to death by state police in what the New York State Official Commission on Attica called “the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”
“Echoes of Attica” includes original songs written and performed by Philadelphia rap poet and activist BL Shirelle and the gospel singer Simply Naomi. Both artists are associated with Die Jim Crow records, which produces music written and performed by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists. Also featured is Dario Peńa, who played the title role in “Macbeth” when he was serving time in Sing Sing and studying theater with the author of the play, Ron Jenkins. Jenkins is a Wesleyan University Professor who has staged plays in prisons in Indonesia, Italy, and the U.S., and will be teaching a course on Attica at the Yale Divinity School’s Institute of Sacred Music this fall with Roche, Shirelle, and Naomi as guest lecturers.
The free outdoor performance will be hosted by the Healing Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee on August 5 at 3pm in the courtyard of the Quaker Meeting House on 15 Rutherford Place in downtown Manhattan. The audience will include teenagers impacted by incarceration who are participating in AFSC's Summer Liberation training program in arts activism and social justice. “Echoes of Attica” will be presented again on September 15 as part of Wesleyan University’s series of events commemorating the Attica anniversary, including lectures, films, and an exhibition of prison protest art by Ojore Lutalo, a long-time AFSC volunteer whose collages were recently displayed at MoMa’s PS1 Gallery.
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.