- Faith & Family
There are some things in the Black community that are considered taboo — the sexual abuse of children is one of them. But for South Florida-born Jonathan Spikes, it has become a personal crusade. In sharing his own life story of sexual abuse at the hands of both men and women when he was just a child, and even sharing how he was abused by his male partner in his adult years, Spikes has remained committed to changing lives for the better, including his own. His conflict resolution/anti-bullying program has been adopted by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. And he has established a foundation to support and encourage at-risk, abused children.
Last Saturday evening, he took the first steps in transforming his book, “I Know What I Am and I Am Not What You Call Me,” into an autobiographical play with a staged reading of the work. Written by Spikes, along with Shanteria Griglen and directed by Patrice DeGraff Arenas, the play features Stephon Bron as the main character, Damon McBlessed — whose struggle is apparently based on the childhood of Spikes.
Bron, a graduate of the New World School of the Arts, is outstanding in his portrayal and should be considered a true rising star.
“The abuse confuses him [Damon] about his sexuality and his identity — but more than that it warps his understanding of what real love is all about,” Spikes says.
While there are certainly moments of laughter and the inclusion of many contemporary images and characters, it is the emotional telling of one man’s true story that grabs the audience and exposes them to a dark world that needs to be exposed.
School board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, who has become one of Spikes’ most avid supporters, hosted the event.
“This is a courageous young man,” she said in her words about Spike. “Sexual abuse is horrific and a serious pattern. In this play it is not sugar-coated — we see it in all of its most raw details. What is amazing is how a young man so terribly abused in his youth has been able to arrive at a point of redemption.”
As one character proclaims, “People will call you many names but the only one that matters is the one you answer to.”
DeGraff Arenas, who plays the role of Damon’s mother, is the foil to the confused young man that makes this play work. While she wears the hat of director she is clearly a talented actress in her own right, giving a stunning performance.
Other actors who showed great promise in this reading included: DuVonne Moore [Dr. Johnston]; Edson Jean [Michael/Steven/Charad] and Devon Dessow [David].
A question and answer period followed the conclusion of the staged reading, which was held in the Peacock Education Center at the Arsht Center. Spikes says he plans to consider the comments from the community, incorporate some of them into the script and take the play to the stage as soon as he is able. With the right changes that should include adding a few more details and/or dialogue that would then require the audience to take fewer “mental leaps,” this could be a play well worth seeing.
By D. Kevin McNeir