Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome


Willie Mae Samuel continues a letter to her late friend...

Dear Sharon,

We talked and laughed about ourselves more than anything. You had special people to talk about me with. Before passing you were waiting for my sisters from Florida to come. They would sit in the kitchen nook and talk and laugh. You recently said, “Yes, I just can’t wait for your sisters to come so that we can talk.”

And you looked at me and finished by saying, “We talked about everything and everybody, and we talk about you, too. Your sisters be telling me things about you and how you were when you all grew up in South Carolina. They told me not to pay any attention to you because you were always bossy with them, especially when your mom was not around.”

You were always concerned about helping the homeless, hopeless and the hungry, helping the drug addicts, parolees and the probationers, long before the community and the churches got involved. You helped them from the street and your  home. That was your office.

You almost stopped attending the productions that I staged for more than 40 years when one year the Spirit led me to touch on some hard issues facing this community. AIDS, Alzheimer’s and homosexuality were issues being ignored, but they were devastating to our community. That year’s production caused you to rail against me until the day you left us. I wrote about the effects of Alzheimer’s on the family dynamics. The years before this play you would always attend with your followers and critique the play. Your crew was made up of Joyce, Bobby, Linda, Ida, Marion, Oliver, Deborah, Gail, David and a crowd of theater lovers.

Every year you would wait until the next day and send my grade. You would always say, “Mrs. Samuel, you outdid yourself with this one.” However, the day after the Alzheimer’s play, “You Do Remember My Boy, Don’t You?,” my call came some days later. You were always blunt, never believing in sugar-coating anything you said.

“Mrs. Samuel, I did not like that one. It was depressing, so do not write another one like that. Write a comedy or something. All the years after the plays, a group of us would go out and fellowship with food and laughter, but this year when I approached them after the play nobody wanted to go. All of them said, ‘We do not feel like going to eat. We just want to go home.’ So, you see, it was not just me depressed, but my entire crew. Stick with the fun plays like ‘Nobodi Goin tu Heben But Me.’ I have been asking you for some years now to stage that play for me one more time, and you act like you don’t hear me.”

“Sharon,” I said, “I know Tracy will do her part so I am going to work on it. I have another lead actress in sight if I can stop her from eating cereal long enough.”

“Well, all right, as long as you heard me,” you would say.

I shall continue to write about us for many years to come and will probably compile a book since everyone is writing a book, and yet on the other hand maybe I will not since you will not be here to write the foreword and you will not be here to sign it with me at book signings.

There is much to do before I get to my exit. But just as I stated earlier, we will all leave unfinished business behind. That is the joy of dying and the joy of having lived. We may say that we have checked off everything on our bucket list, but that is a farce. Sharon, you left a legacy for us. Your life made a bold statement for us to have deep passion for all that we do. You left each of us knowing that you loved us all in your own special way, but we all knew that we were loved.

You would hang up the phone by saying, “Love you, girl.” So I will end by saying, “We love you, girl.”

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome.

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