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Hate Out of Winston-Salem takes up cause to have American Sign Language interpreter at the National Black Theatre Festival

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Hate Out of Winston is advocating for at least one American Sign Language interpreter at the National Black Theatre Festival in August after receiving a request for support from a Winston-Salem parent.

Amatullah Saleem, an activist and a founder of Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble in Winston-Salem, said her daughter, Opal Gordon, who is deaf, plans to visit her from New York and would like to attend the NBTF this year.

Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble is a group of dancers and drummers that has performed at major Black cultural events, including the National Black Theatre Festival. Saleem founded the group with Ron Dortch, an actor, and Gilbert Young, a painter, in the early 1970s. When Saleem moved to New York in 1989, Hashim Saleh became the leader of the group. Saleh died in November 2019 after a sudden illness.

For the 2022 National Black Theatre Festival, Saleem is suggesting that an ASL interpreter be offered at a “production with emphasis on music and dance because a deaf audience is able to see the movement and feel the vibrations from the music.”

She said she would be happy if there was just one production “where we have one interpreter one evening and put the publicity out so that the deaf community in and around Winston-Salem will know about it and come.”

Saleem recently emailed the NBTF inquiring about interpreters at the festival and received an email dated May 29 from India Mack, arts administrator for the N.C. Black Repertory Company, which produces the festival, stating, “Thank you for passing along the information about Deaf Services Unlimited. The 2022 festival does not include interpretation or deaf services. NBTF will assess the need to provide such services for future festivals.”

But Miranda Jones, the leader of Hate Out of Winston, said she would like to have something done for this year’s festival.

Miranda Jones

Jones

Jones said Hate Out of Winston has contacted the National Black Theatre Festival by email and phone calls in support of Saleem’s request but as of Thursday had not received a response from festival officials.

Originally, Hate Out of Winston inquired about the possibility of interpreters at NBTF plays, but Jones said having one interpreter for one production, as Saleem has since asked about for the 2022 festival, would be a good start.

“We just want to know how do we make this happen? What do we do?” Jones said.

She said that members of Hate Out of Winston recognize that there will be a cost for having an interpreter at an NBTF production.

“We do understand that a lot of times places like this kind of use the language of ‘undue burden,’ but when you’re talking about North Carolina that has over 1 million deaf persons, some of them, we believe, would like to see the National Black Theatre Festival,” Jones said. “Some of them are African Americans.”

Brian McLaughlin, media relations director for NBTF, said Thursday that festival organizers are considering the request.

“We are certainly looking at ways that we might can make something like that happen at this late notice in the game, because our motto is ‘Black theater is for everyone’ and that includes the deaf community,” McLaughlin said. “We are certainly considering what we can do.”

He said that festival organizers will reach out to Saleem and Hate Out of Winston.

“We are looking at ways we can make something happen, as far as this year,” McLaughlin said. “Down the road, we’re hoping to maybe even increase it.”

In North Carolina, 1.2 million people ages 18 and older have hearing loss, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Jones said that Hate Out of Winston is trying to bring awareness to the need for an ASL interpreter at this year’s festival through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and by contacting various organizations such as two deaf advocacy groups and a sign language group.

“(We’re) just trying to shine the light,” Jones said. “It’s not a fight for us. This is the right thing to do.”

336-727-7366

@fdanielWSJ

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