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Sekou Sundiata in blessing the boats^11

Sekou Sundiata

blessing the boats is a powerful solo performance that relates Sekou Sundiata's experience with the life-threatening illness of kidney failure and recovery through organ transplant. Diagnosed with kidney disease in 1995, Sekou lived a story familiar to thousands of people and their families. On the national list for a kidney transplant, he received dialysis for a year and half until, in January 1999, he received a kidney donated by his manager and close friend. After nearly a year in and out of the hospital, the transplant finally stabilized in December 1999.


Told with honesty and humor, blessing the boats blends the forms of theatrical monologue, literary reading, stand-up comedy, spoken word performance and griot storytelling. A mix of sound, lighting and video underscores this evocative and unsentimental look into a time of profound change when Sundiata was "an exile from the self I had come to know" and the resulting state of unexpected, precious grace.


With Sekou Sundiata's poetic voice, which is, in turn, heartfelt, funny, poignant, reflective and irreverent, blessing the boats uses the power of language to encourage and facilitate discussions and thought about health, history, mortality, friendship and love. As a stirring work of theater, blessing the boats has the potential to deeply affect not only people like Sekou, who have faced or are facing a life and death issue each day, but all of us.


blessing the boats was directed by Rhodessa Jones, and the artistic team included Roberta Uno (dramaturg), Bill Toles (sound design), Michael Mazzola (lighting design) and Sage Marie Carter (projections design).


From 2003-2007, Sekou performed blessing the boats in more than thirty cities across the United States, at university-based theaters, art centers, community centers and health care organizations. Responding to the performance, Catherine Paykin, Transplant Programs Director at the National Kidney Foundation, said: "I was awestruck. This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a talented actor, poet and musician who happens to be kidney patient. It is a 'must-see' for all who work helping kidney patients and transplant recipients." Sekou Sundiata is committed to using this show to raise public awareness about kidney disease and treatment as well as organ donation and transplantation. In addition to the stage performances, presenters are asked to arrange public symposia and other community activities to expand upon the discourse. MAPP also facilitates partnerships between presenters and organ procurement organizations, transplant centers, and other medical organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation, Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), and Coalition on Donation to increase audience attendance and funding possibilities.


blessing the boats was a production of Dance & Be Still Arts and MultiArts Projects & Productions (MAPP) and was commissioned by Miami Dade Community College in partnership with the Flynn Center for the Arts and the National Performance Network Creation Fund; the University Musical Society, Ann Arbor, MI; Duke University Institute of the Arts, Durham, NC; and Aaron Davis Hall in partnership with New Heritage Theater Group, New York City. The development of blessing the boats was made possible, in part, by New Works for a New WORLD play development laboratory at New WORLD Theater, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. blessing the boats was also made possible by a grant from The Greenwald Foundation.