Bridging America’s racial and gender divide is a reality that today’s youth can make happen through continuous dialogue and empathy fostered through education.

That was the message “Sisters,” a play written by Joanne Hudson and Royal Shirée, delivered to a group of 180 seventh grade students from Scotts Ridge Middle School (SRMS) last month.

“The chasm that this country goes through will continue to happen unless we have open talks,” said Kevin Knight after he played Frederick Douglass in the play at Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center on May 24.

The contemporary play, which touches on race, gender, opportunity, and privilege in America, is based on the true story of two women who lived together at the Keeler Tavern (then called the Resseguie Hotel) in the 19th Century under a completely different set of rules due solely to the color of their skin.

“The play Sisters is based on the true-life stories of two women — one black and one white — who lived at this site in the 19th Century under a completely different set of rules due solely to the color of their skin. This is Ridgefield’s ‘hidden history’ that does not get recorded in the official history books,” said Hildi Grob, Keeler Tavern executive director.

The two women in the play are Phillis DuBois and Anna Marie Resseguie, played by Tracey Mcallister and Alana Arco Peck.

Peck spoke to The Press about today’s political climate. “I want the audience to know the importance of solidarity."

New curriculum

The play was part of a new regional world studies curriculum that sixth and seventh graders at Scotts Ridge are learning this year.

The curriculum looks at regions around the world and defines them by their geography, economy, history and civics. Within these disciplines, they also have themes. In this unit, the students looked at human rights and social justice.

"I am not here to teach anything," said Hudson, one of the playwrights. "As a playwright and theatre artist, it is my job to explore topics that interest me through my writing, and to entertain and inspire thought in my audience through the raising of questions. It is my job to learn through the process, whatever can be learned through pretending to be other people and walk in their shoes. If you're interested in what I've learned you've only to watch the play to find out."

After the play the students split up into smaller groups to get a deeper understanding about the themes addressed in the play. The students learned about how the perspectives of history can cause bias and how that has changed through time. Students read op-ed pieces, letters to the editor and read reviews of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to explore the style of writing and reflect on the play. Lastly, the students had a question and answer session with the actors, playwright and stage manager.

“The Q&A session can be more meaningful than the play itself because it helps kids share their own thoughts on the topic” Knight said.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story contained a quote from Joanne Hudson which mischaracterized her statement. The quote has been corrected.