Faculty Spotlight: Nikki Yeboah’s The (M)Others

By Julia Halprin Jackson

Nikki Yeboah (center). Photo: Kim Yee, ’16 Communication Studies. Student actors: Heidy Beltran, ’14 Psychology; Caitlin Wilson, ’18 Communication Studies; Destiny Montgomery, ’18 Communication Studies; Kim Yee. Photos: Michael Cheers.

“The (M)Others attempts to humanize statistics and people who were deemed criminal.” — Nikki Yeboah

The first time Nikki Yeboah performed the words of her mother and grandmother on stage as a graduate student, she realized how theater allowed her to inhabit stories she believed deserved center stage. Born in Ghana and raised in Canada, Yeboah felt disconnected from her family history and culture. By weaving African performance styles into her grandmother’s stories, she offered a chance for her mother to see herself represented. As an assistant professor of communication studies at San Jose State, Yeboah yearns to recreate that sense of recognition in others.

When she learned that California has the highest rates of violence committed by police in the nation, Yeboah wanted to understand the people behind the statistics. She interviewed four women who had lost loved ones to police violence and structured a documentary play, The (M)Others, using their words. The play premiered in May 2018 at the Hammer Theatre and has been performed in Florida and communities across California that have been affected by police violence.

The (M)Others attempts to humanize statistics and people who were deemed criminal, whose stories we’ve dismissed,” says Yeboah. “I was curious about the life that came before this person became a statistic and what remains after they’re gone.”

Yeboah invited the four women to the premiere to watch their stories come to life. Following the performance, she asked the audience to stand if they had been impacted by police violence. A third of the sold-out crowd rose to their feet.

“Despite the trauma these stories carry, they also carry a lot of strength,” says Yeboah. “Theater facilitates a journey for the actor and the audience. My student performers were in dialogue with the mothers they were representing. For the audience, you must put yourself empathetically in a position that is not yours. That is the first step to engage in real conversations.”

Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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