The Vanguard Theater in Montclair is the only NJ non-profit to receive a community grant from Michael Jordan's Brand for improving Black lives in their neighborhoods
The Vanguard Theater in Montclair, New Jersey has been hand selected to receive the Michael Jordan Brand’s Community Grant Program, an initiative of its Black Community Commitment (BCC), created in 2020. Grants were awarded to 48 grassroots, non-profit organizations that are driving action and leading sustainable solutions to improve Black lives in their neighborhoods.
Vanguard Theater, with a local connection to the initiative’s four key focus areas of economic justice, education, narrative change, and social justice was the only recipient in New Jersey - and one of only two theater companies.
WBGO Journal Host Doug Doyle spoke with the The Vanguard Theater’s Producing Artistic Director Janeece Freeman Clark about the award. The educator, writer and actress was pleasantly surprised by the prestigious recognition.
"It meant so much to us. I remember when we started applying for it we were thinking this is Michael Jordan and theater has absolutely nothing to do with the sports world and so we didn't imagine it happening, but we're so thrilled. The grant is really about finding grassroots non-profit organizations that are doing the work to really help improve racial equity in their communities."
Freeman Clark, who co-founded the theater company in 2015, stresses Vanguard has a strong commitment to doing just that.
"One of the pieces of the work that we do is activism and social justice work. That's important to us. We teach people from an early age the importance of using your gifts and using your talents to give back and to change the world, even if it's just your corner of the world. For me,
when parents of kids who have come out of our education program reach out to me and say how much their young person or their young adult is using their gifts to make a difference, whether it's doing cabaret for a cause, being a part of their university's social justice groups and really getting behind a cause and using theater as a way of opening the doors to dialogue and conversation. That's such a big part of who we are."
Jordan Brand President says he believes that these community organizations that were selected aren’t just local changemakers, but that they are dreamers, makers of generational bonds, and neighborhood leaders with an authentic understanding of how together they can create transformative change.
One of the newest ways Vanguard is doing that is through its New Works Festival: Illuminating New Voices (running May 19-23).
"We have a hundred people who have submitted to be a part of this festival which is really exciting. It's an opportunity for people to present portions of works that they have written. We plan to have a professional panel there of writers and composers to give some great advice to them and mentorship. We plan on giving each group that we selected a creative team. There will be a director. They'll have a music director. They'll have a choreographer if needed to help them really craft their pieces. This comes from a space for me when I spent many years in the business where there were a lot of stories being told about me, when I say me as a black woman, but they weren't being written by people like me and they weren't being directed by people like me. That is so important to Vanguard, to create this pipeline for professional writers, directors, choreographers, gatekeepers, the producers. So, this grant is giving us an opportunity to launch this program that we've wanted to do for quite some time."
Janeece Freeman Clark and her husband Dwayne Clark have both performed in Broadway musicals. Dwayne was part of the Tony Award-winning cast of The Color Purple starring Cynthia Erivo. Dwayne is currently in the new musical comedy Shucked on Broadway. Their two children are also in the entertainment field.
Janeece also teaches theater at Seton Hall University and is on the musical theater faculty at Manhattan School of Music.
You can SEE the entire interview with Janeece Freeman Clark here.