ANN ARBOR – Alain Bantsimba had no idea what was happening when the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization raided his Ann Arbor home. The Congolese citizen thought all of his paperwork was in order because he had paid an attorney to make sure it was.
It turns out the attorney filed necessary paperwork one day late, and Bantsimba’s life has been turned upside down as a result. He was arrested at 10:30 at night, in front of his American wife and their infant child. Placed in cuffs he was hauled off to jail, where he sat for two months.
While he was released, he cannot work because the Immigration and Naturalization folks have not reopened his case. Until that happens, Bantsimba is in limbo, wanting desperately to return to his beloved work as a chef at the Back Alley Gourmet in Ann Arbor.
Enter the Common Ground Theatre Productions team based in Ann Arbor.
The company has put together a one-day performance of the play “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.” This will be the Midwest premiere of the play. The production will be held this coming Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, 2275 Platt Road (near Washtenaw Avenue). Sliding scale donations are $15-$25. Tickets are available at the door.
“The play is the story of the voices of various Americans who did not sit idly by,” said Jean Mackey, the show’s producer. “It is a celebration and defense of American history and ordinary people who spoke out against injustice.”
The production will feature the stories of such American voices as Fredrick Douglass (La’Ron Williams), Fannie Lou Hamer (Rhonda Bantsimba), Susan B. Anthony (Jennifer Young Yim) and others.
Being added to the mix is a piece by Kathy Moore, an Ann Arbor song writer and performer. Moore will tell her story as a lesbian mother in America.
“Voices” director Elise Bryant served as artistic director for both Common Ground Theatre Ensemble and Workers’ Lives/Workers’ Stories from 1982 to 1997 in Ann Arbor before moving to the Washington, DC area in 1997. A playwright, director, actor, and singer, she has received numerous awards for her artistic and organizing work, including a “Joady” award in 1992 from the Film Arts Foundation of California for her commitment to showcasing the lives of working people. She wrote the script for the 1998 PBS documentary “Porgy and Bess: An American Voice.” Her most recent work in Michigan was as director of the Detroit production of “Forgotten: The Murder at the Ford Rouge Plant,” 2004 and 2005.
The “Voices” production will also feature original music by Kathy Moore.
Author Howard Zinn said of the Ann Arbor performance, “We are happy that the performance of ‘Voices’ in Michigan will be used to help the Bantsimba family in their struggle to maintain themselves in the face of government repression.
“Our book celebrates resistance to authority. It honors all those who have been victims of war and injustice and refuse to give in. The slogan ‘No Human Being is Illegal’ matches exactly the spirit shown by all those voices who insist on the solidarity of the human race.”