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A history lesson that included Black women literature took place at Rockford's Inscape Collective

Yvonne Boose
Some of Dorothy Paige-Turner's Readers Theater performers.

A Rockford Art Gallery gave an audience a taste of African American women history, poetry and performances all wrapped in one.

Dorothy Paige-Turner calls herself a renaissance woman. She’s a singer, music educator, playwright, producer, and many other things. She and her troupe led “She Speaks” at Inscape Collective and Rockford Listening Room this past Saturday. This program highlighted the works of well-known poets like Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. It also recognized some less famous local women like Constance Rennick Lane, the first African American teacher and principal for the Rockford Public School district 205.

Shiraz Tata is the co-creator of the gallery. She said emphasizing these artists is important for the community.

“Their writings have been so inspiring to the values of equity and inclusion and making sure everyone feels welcome,” she said, “which is really our mission at Inscape Collective too, which is to create a space of some belonging.”

The players were Janet Wright, Carl Towns, Jacquelyn Rogers, Coleen Martin Williams, and Wendell Thompson. Paige-Turner was positioned in front of the stage, joining her troupe throughout the evening.

Donnie Blount was there with his wife. He said he had plans to watch sports that evening. After looking around and seeing mostly women in the audience he jokingly said he was in the wrong place. Hearing the readings took him back in time.

“Most of the stuff they say, I've kind of know a little bit about that," he said, "because I went to school in Chicago."
Blount explained that he was introduced to a lot of those women back then.

After watching some of the presentation, Blount retracted his comment about being in the wrong place and confirmed that he was indeed in the right one.

He said wasn’t familiar with Paige-Turner’s work but said he plans on attending more shows like this.

Caretha Collins said she has known about Paige-Turner for over 40 years. She said the venue was perfect for this type of performance.

“It's small and you can talk and get familiar with her and talk with her and ask her questions and things like that," Collins said, "and in a big space you cannot."

Collins was there with Adrienne Walker, who is also familiar with Paige-Turner’s work.

“We all love Dorothy. And she's such a professional,” she said, "excellent teacher and she knows our history very well.”

Paige-Turner said African American actors in Rockford – including the women -- have been marginalized when it comes to most of the theaters. She said this demographic doesn’t have many platforms for performing. This led her to create one. In 2019, she produced these theatrical readings for 100th anniversary of the women suffrage movement. She highlighted the Black women who were a part of that. For this education, she added poets, playwrights and other influential Black women.
“Because people don't know…I mean, they know Lorraine Hansberry, but they don't know so many of the people that we shared with them tonight," Paige-Turner said. "And they need to know that we were all over the place in history and [we] helped to make history."

The event was presented by Rockford Urban Ministries.



Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.