"The Detroit Wall Play"

Part of a mural on the Birwood Wall along 8-Mile Rd. in Detroit. Photo by John Michael Sefel

Part of a mural on the Birwood Wall along 8-Mile Rd. in Detroit. Photo by John Michael Sefel

The lights dimmed, an eerie lighting stretched across the audience and suddenly, the actors from the production “The Detroit Wall” stepped out from the shadows, starting off the show with a bang of facts.

As the show moved on, an emotional connection began forming with the audience. As the actors said their lines, expressing the suffering of racial segregation, a sorrowful silence could be felt throughout the crowd. One of these touched members was Amna Khalyleh, a second year student at Henry Ford College.

“I loved the show. I think that it was really personally touching for me. I knew a little bit about the Birwood wall [...] and so seeing this really play out and seeing other young people know about our history, especially Black history, and Detroit’s history is really great. I think 100% they achieved their goal. I think that there are a lot of people that didn’t know about the wall and I think as well it’s a really personally touching thing, especially for me being from Detroit my whole life,” Khalyleh explained.

Many who attended this production were unaware of the history behind the “Detroit Wall” and had gone to support the actors. One of these being Kayra Thomas, who had gone to support her “little sister” Sydney Lane. The show itself had several scenes which depicted emotional moments in Detroit's history, where actress Sydney Lane, performing with a guitar, left an emotional touch on the audience.

“[The show] was amazing, it was very invigorating. It was intelligent and well thought out. I really learned a lot. To be honest, I didn’t know that the Birwood wall actually existed and I’m a Detroit native, been here 43 years [...] also, working in community development myself, and in the non-profit sector where we plan neighborhoods and things, you know racism and the segregation still exist, it’s just subtle. I was very surprised and also intrigued [about the show]. I was shocked and it was very powerful and invoking. I forgot for a minute that she was my “little sister” out there,” said Thomas.

The actors felt encapsulated working on a project with such a powerful message. Some even returned to Henry Ford College after graduating in order to participate in the show. Kennedy Cooper, HFC alum, came back to the stage after four years and put on an emotional performance.

“I think the story was very informative, I learned a lot during the process and I hope that people took something away from it too. My favorite part to perform has to be the riot scene, where I play a woman and her sister during the riot,” said Cooper.

As the story came to a close, a memorable performance was engraved into the audiences’ minds. As the cast members took a bow, everybody in the audience of the sold out show went up on their feet to applaud them. Director John Michael Sefel expressed his pride.

“I was thrilled with the audience reception, thrilled that they really seemed to connect to it, and so very very proud of the students. As a matter of fact, I was just speaking to somebody. A woman came up to me , she was just 74 years old and that this was such an important play and what she was really impressed with was that the play asked them questions “Well what do we do now?”, so yeah I was thrilled. I was extraordinarily proud of all of them, they all worked really really hard and it was a really successful performance,” Sefel said.

All seats were filled for all three performances of the play. The reception from the audience was unlike any other as positive remarks about the performance took over the stage after the actors took the final bow. The objective of the performance was to start conversations about this unknown historical wall sitting in Detroit, and it seems that Dr. John Michael led his team to achieve their goal.