THE STORY of the PLAY
In 2014, I was called to replace an actor in a performance by Iron Age Theatre called “The People's History: The Howard Zinn Project.”
This is where I met Fred Hampton. In the show, I was asked to perform one of Fred’s speeches about class struggle. As I read his monologue about the masses being poor and about unification of the masses, I fell in love…in love with Fred’s ideas about revolution and power to all people. I knew right away that his words were needed now as much as ever!
John Doyle agreed with me, and together we decided that creating a one-man show about Fred Hampton was not only important, it was also necessary.
I began the writing process by researching what is known about Fred Hampton. I found inspiring speeches and videos about the young revolutionary that led me to dig deeper into the events that were happening around him during his short life. Through this research, I learned about the years when Fred was a young man, a teenager, and a young adult-- events that seemed to shape his ideas and set him on his revolutionary path.
As I read about Fred, and as I listened to his speeches, I was struck by a constant theme. Fred had a radical love not only for the people, but especially for the children. But what really pulled at my heart was finding out that on the night of his murder, he was sleeping next to the mother of his child, Deborah Johnson, who was 8 months pregnant with his son.
It was heartbreaking to me that a man who was filled with love for children would never be able to talk to his own son. Because he was murdered before his son was born, he would never be able to show him how to be a revolutionary black man within an oppressive system.
Before becoming an actor and writer, I was a true “hip hop head.” I spent most of my life listening to and loving the music of Tupac Shukar. As I learned more and more about the tragic loss of Fred Hampton, and the sad truth that he died before he ever met his son, I kept hearing one of my favorite Tupac songs in my head. The song is called “To My Unborn Child,” which is a spoken letter from Tupac to the child he hopes to have in the future.
Tupac’s song inspired me to use the format of a love letter to his son as a vehicle to talk about Fred’s revolutionary ideas. This way, Fred would be able to tell his son who he is, what he believed, and why he fought. He could pass these ideas on to the next generation, while commissioning his son (and the audience) to action.
I used Fred Hampton's own words, as well as my own, to paint the picture of Fred’s life. Combining his prose with my heartfelt passion for his cause, I crafted the love letter I believed he would have written. I did a bulk of the writing while I was in Cincinnati performing in a show. In a loft full of actors, and on a halfway deflated air mattress, I researched Fred Hampton. I wanted to write stories that were relatable to the present-day issues plaguing poor and black communities.
I came back to Philadelphia with a draft chock full of ideas and feelings that were simultaneously about Fred and personal to me and my own experiences and beliefs. My next big job was to edit my raw materials to make the story clearer, leaner and more active. I decided to have Fred tell his story by interacting with other “characters” (all played by me) on stage. With the help of the theater community here in Philadelphia, I workshopped the play several times until it ultimately became the piece of critically-important historical art that it is today!
Bringing Each Character to life challenge me as an actor and the audiences understanding of racism, capitalism and the Panthers..
Rich Bradford portrays a racist Cop in To My UNborn Child
With the help of the theater community here in Philadelphia, I work-shopped the play several times. There were readings at The Wooden Shoe Book Store in South Philly, The 5 Saints Distillery in Norristown PA, and the Drake Theatre in Philly. The play opened at the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe festival and played to sold out houses at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. The play returned months later on December 4 to commemorate Hampton’s murder at the Community Education Center in west Philly. The play has been produced at The Ice House in Bethlehem PA and Passage Theatre in Trenton NJ. This progression of rehearsal, revision and performance continued until it ultimately became the piece of critically-important historical art that it is today!