Lena & Me: Christopher Smith

Our Guest Contributor, artist, Alex Wilhite burned Messenger up, strongly encouraging me to “Friend” a performance artist named Christopher Smith. “He’s from Chicago!” What’s so special about this guy, I’m wondering. Then, I browse his Facebook page. Yes, Smith is from Chicago, but Smith is also black, deaf, queer, and has multiple sclerosis. Did I mention that Smith is also an artist? I couldn’t wait to “Friend” him and to ask him to be a Guest Contributor for Garden Spices. The curtain opens on Christopher Smith. – Victorine


Growing up deaf in Chicago was “tough” for Christopher Smith, not only within his community but also with his family.  “There was miscommunication with my family and with everyone, but I managed,” Smith indicated.  “Even with barriers, I loved my family and was very close to my mother.”  The middle child of three, Smith always kept his family entertained. 

Smith loved old moves, and even though there was no closed caption at that time, Smith was captivated by the facial expressions in the films. At age 7, Smith discovered “Stormy Weather,” starring Lena Horne. “This movie saved me from communication barriers,” Smith indicated. “Her presence was so strong and dramatic. I fell in love with her and found confidence.” (This Lena experience is an integral part of Smith’s performance career today.) By age 13, Smith had discovered “Lady Sings the Blues,” on TV, and he idolized Diana Ross. “I didn’t know who Billie Holiday was. But I found her records,” reflects Smith. “I emerged myself in this music and through repetition, learned to be able to hear some words and sounds.” This self-training would enable Smith to dance in high school. “I can hear different levels of sound.”

Christopher at 13

The first year at lab school, Whitney Young High School, found Smith a part of a black dance and drama group, The 6th Sense Performers created by Charlotte Akinsowon. A schoolmate, Kelvin Coleman, who was a senior at Young, influenced him. “I admired him long before I met him,” admits Smith. “He was 22, and I was 17. He was loud, crazy, and excited (about life), while I was shy.” Coleman helped Smith come out of his shell. Smith visited Coleman in his Bronzeville home, where “we would play old movies and do female roles, like Betty Davis,” Smith recounts. “We could be ourselves.” By the time Smith was a senior, he had come out of his shell and had a dance academy with an interpreter. Whitney Young also had an advocacy group for LBGTQ, and although Smith was not a part of this group, he is admittedly queer.

As a “queer” black man, Smith remembers the bullying, beatings, and being called a fag. ”I knew at age 3 or 4 that I was different, and by high school, I began to understand who I was. I prefer ‘queer’ to ‘gay.’” Smith has also lived with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He is 55 years old, and at age 45 was dancing and acting. “I was doing a workshop and collapsed, falling to the ground,” remembers Smith. “I didn’t know what had happened.“ Taken to the ER, they asked if he had MS. He was in the hospital for two weeks, and afterward, thought his life was over. He was “out of the spotlight for two years, when he enrolled in OHLONE College, a program for the Deaf/ H/H. After one semester, his teacher encouraged him to teach a workshop about “life.” “I felt lost in front of an audience, and had to ask for patience,” Smith recounts. “ I began to feel me again and felt comfortable with having MS.” He had an epiphany about sharing his life story, and Lena & Me was born.

Lena & Me depicts the masculine/feminine journey of Chris Smith. “The show is about confidence. Smith dons his magical earrings and speaks into a mirror. He talks about his father and brother, who were in the military. Smith was more feminine and kept wishing he was like his father and brother. He suppressed his feminine self and felt oppressed. He uses pictures of his “Dad and brother” and tells them he loves them, but begs them, “…please let me go.” Smith had to find “my own me.” The pictures dissolve, and he transforms into his true self with earrings.

About those fabulous earrings. Smith says his signature earrings mean “power, grace, beauty, and confidence.” Living in a white area of a small town, Smith wanted to “challenge himself with wearing earrings.” Once, when Smith was waiting for a bus, a neighbor sat and stared at him with “a look.” As time passed, and Smith appeared without his earrings, the neighbor asked, “Where are your earrings? It was kind of a welcome.”

When asked about his feelings on the word “Shelter,” Smith answered: “In my own perspective shelter means: to feel secure from danger, to feel so free from any harm, to be yourself completely from racial issues, sexism, no judgment, and to feel love from hate, and to feel open-minded, not narrow minded.” I am sure Lena Horne, an avid actress/activist, would be proud.

 


-Christopher Smith

As an actor,  Christopher has worked with The National Theatre of the Deaf,  the Sunshine Too Theatre Company,  Deaf West Theatre (in Los Angeles),  Centerlight Theatre (in Chicago),  Chicago Dramatists’ Workshop,  the Intiman Theater (in Seattle).
Film work includes “The Compensation” starring Michele A. Bank and directed by Zeinabu Irene Davis.  He was also featured prominantly in “It Takes The Light To Make The City”, directed by Louis Antonelli. Contact


-Victorine

Originally from Chicago, Vicki Goldston, (Victorine), now calls  Florence, AL, the Shoals area, home.  She has three children, (including a son-in-love), and 3 grand children, all who add texture to the fabric of her life.

Teaching Conscious Living through God Within You, Vicki is the Pastor Emeritus of Living Spirit Church, an Independent,  New Thought ministry, in Florence, AL. Minister Vicki is an Inspirational Speaker;  a Contributing Author of a Chicken Soup book, The Miracle of Tithing, by Mark Victor Hansen; and the author of her own book, Be S.A.F.E. (Still, Aware, Faithful, and Excellent).  She is the president of Camp Goldston Publishing, LLC. and the founder of Garden Spices MagazineShe facilitates her workshop, Abundance Therapy, and is the Founder/Facilitator of Revelations:  A Ministry.  She is also a member of the African Dance Troupe, POZA and The C.O.R.E. Drummers

Her slogan is: “It’s all good/God” and Minister Vicki believes “love” has the final word.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Sheila Hayes-Smiley

    I knew what the subject was for this month and thought shelter. This may be a bit boring! NOT! Amazement at the interpretation! Art included! I’m overwhelmed! Garden Spices congratulations! What a concept! Five years, WOW!

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