Tarell Alvin McCraney is a native son of Miami. He’s an artist, a creator and an advocate for the city we all love. The award-winning playwright shared his Miami story with us: the journey from stage to screen, the “spirit of generosity” that got him there and coming home to make sure students today have the same opportunities he did.

Given the long journey your story has taken from the stage to screen, what has it been like seeing your experiences come to life in Moonlight?
The Oscar win for “Moonlight” has been sort of surreal. At the same time, it’s helping to ground some of the community work I really want, and still need, to do. An Academy Award doesn’t make community work or the process of engaging in it easier, except that there’s more to talk about. It draws attention to it in a great way. I’m happy I can help people focus on community issues I think are important.

When talking about the key moments that shaped your success, you reference a “spirit of generosity.” Tell us about that.
The community provided space. I got to take art classes virtually free from the age of nine and up. I studied at New World School of the Arts and with National Young Arts Foundation. That’s not everyone’s experience. I had many teachers and people in the community who were supportive and afforded me opportunities to participate in the arts. I was lucky. I recognize mine is an extraordinary path and I credit much of it to the strong foundation I received. For several years in a row, Miami’s schools have received numerous accolades. There’s something right about what we’re giving our youth and young artists. I’m always trying to see how I can pull that back into the community and use it as food for the growth of where I come from. For 10 weeks last summer, I was working with students in Liberty City and it was thanks to The Miami Foundation and all the foundations that pooled their funds together. When they, along with Knight Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, provide grant support, the community benefits.

Pictured above: Tarell Alvin McCraney explains a scene in ‘YALS Antigone’ to the participants in his summer pilot program. Photo courtesy of The Miami Herald

Now you’re creating the new 305/One Festival with a Knight Arts Challenge grant.
There are large theatre spaces and small or intimate theatre spaces. Since artists have to create for the spaces they inhabit, they were creating one or two person performances. It became important to me that we start making a place for that. I thought, let me find a way to celebrate this and curate new voices. This is my vision for 305/One Festival with the Knight Arts grant. The first portion is a mentor program. We’ll get three artists who are part of the festival to workshop pieces in a high school setting and in the community this summer. Next summer, they’ll work with those high school artists again. We’ll show three artists in residence and also start poetry classes. It’s exciting and born out of something happening already.

Yours is a story of acceptance of self and others. With the success of this movie, what do you feel it means for those growing up today in your neighborhood?
Miamians have a tendency to denigrate our own cultural makeup. We are a community of color, carrying ties to the Caribbean, South America and the American South. This makes us a unique place. It’s what makes Miami exciting and I hope we start to look at where we come from as a gift. I hope that black boys and brown girls and gender nonconforming people in Liberty City and all over Miami can see what pride there is in being who they are – and how much better that will make us all.

You told a reporter for the Guardian: “A community is only as strong as the stories it tells about itself.” Tell us what this means to you and your Miami story.
I have an entirely solid and huge love for Miami. That love allows me to want to celebrate the things Miami can give to itself. We have young people who are smart, swift, cunning and distressed. The best I can do is allow them access to help themselves and give them tools that allow them to better their own experiences. And that matters to me because I love this city in more ways than I can quantify.

Jessica Rodriguez is a journalist reporting on culture, diversity and issues affecting people of color.


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