Circus, Race & Culture

I was very happy to see CNN covering the clowns In North Carolina protesting the Clan rally this week.  Clowns have a way of subverting authority.  This week, I had the chance to work with Robert Geathers, Jr., a defensive end for the Cincinnati Bengals, as part of the Marvin Lewis Community Fund’s “Learning is Cool” program at the Chase School in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati.


“What was your favorite subject?” asked the moderator.  I answered with social studies and geography.  I have been lucky enough to meet people from around the world through the circus.  I grew up in Kentucky just across the river and everyone in my neighborhood of Villa Hills, KY (some call it Vanilla Hills), wasImage white except for my friend John who is from Vietnam.  When I mention that I went to college at the University of Cincinnati and lived on Bruce Avenue (Northside), the crowd roars.

“Go, kids!  You will have to work hard.  People will tell you that you can’t, you shouldn’t.  But if you want to do something, do it!”

The next question was about my first job.  I answered, “Working at my high school, Covington Catholic, to pay tuition on work study.”

Just a few days earlier we hosted a birthday party for 30 kids and a birthday boy who was turning seven at our space in Ludlow, KY.  A little girl comes up to me at the end of the party:

G: The dark man has my headband.   I gave it to him when I was swinging.

Me:  You mean the African American man?

G:   The dark man in a shirt like yours but it’s blue.Image

Me:  You mean the African American man?

She appears confused.

Me:  The guy who walked the tight wire and hung and spun in the air.

G:  Yeah, him.

Me:  The Black man?

G:  No.  He’s brown not black.

Rackim, the African American performer, gave it to her Dad.

I think most kids in the area where I grew up in Northern Kentucky only see black people on the news or chasing, tackling and tossing via sports or occasionally bagging groceries in the store.

My daughter goes to a school with a nearly 99.9% Caucasian population.

The year is 2009.  We are attending the school’s open house to recruit new families.  This school had a living wax museum where kids in the 5th grade got to choose and become an important historical figure, memorize a speech and become this person. If you push the button the character comes to life.

I see someone who looks like a coal miner down the hallway.  He has a peanut on his lapel and I tell my wife, “I think that kid’s in blackface.  George Washington Carver.”

“No Way,” she says. I push the button.

“I am George Washington Carver. I have made over 100 inventions from the peanut.”

The next year, this school went on to win the National Blue Ribbon for educational excellence.  I sent a letter to the school outlining the fact that we have a black president and that I was appalled that the night the school chooses to put its best foot forward there is a student in blackface.  We chose to send our kids there anyway so that we can work from the inside to educate.  To steal a line from the protesting clowns in the CNN news clip,  “Clown Power, White Flour!”


My daughter’s best friend is an Indian who is celebrating Diwali.  An old friend Shreeyash Palshikar, PhD., a world renown Indian Magician has come from Washington, DC for Jadoo: Indian Magic 11/16&17/2012  tickets here at the Ludlow Theatre (Home of Circus Mojo).  Marvin is right… Learning is cool whether it’s from an African American circus performer or a magician from India.  Performance and entertainment can be a tool for social change.

Circus Mojo is a for profit social venture using circus as a tool for physical, emotional and even real estate development.  We offer corporate retreats and team building as well as diversity training with an innovative approach to status and accomplishment. Circus Mojo is based in Ludlow, KY (South of the Mason Dixon for a reason).



Filed under Our Common Humanity

2 responses to “Circus, Race & Culture

  1. James Johnson

    South of the Mason Dixon? Chased out of the North? Why not a trip back to Chicago?

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