An African princess struggles to find herself in a dark world where the “colorless” light of the Anglo Saxon is the only source of enlightenment. Spirit Awakening is a one woman performance cleverly chronicling the life and experiences of a young Akuyoe Graham. Graham, in her more formative years painstakingly transformed herself into the more Eurocentric, socially acceptable “Charlotte” as she journeyed outside the confines of the African motherland into the hands of the “New World” during an era when an old world separatist mentality still remained. “I figured that if “Great White” couldn’t accept me as an African royal then fine I’d be a Spanish one”. “Charlotte” dies and Akuyoe emerges victorious once again, over the many struggles against the world, and that of the inner conflict of self. She sheds layers of pain, shame and doubt from yesteryears, eventually evolving once again into the shining black princess she unknowingly always was; fully aware of her self, worth, and the many worlds within this global universe.
“As an African woman and immigrant I felt compelled to tell my story. Each human being is a wonderful story unfolding day by day, moment by moment. I have always believed and known intuitively that you can take any story and make it a work of art and create something beautiful, something tangible, something exquisite that encompasses the human condition, the human struggle. You can talk to any human being extract something from them and come up with a beautiful work of art, and that is my job as a writer, as an actor – to tell stories”. Graham says that she’d always felt that a wonderful way to give back to life is by shaping her life into a wonderful story that she could give back to people as a gift. The lessons that she has learned and the insights that she now has, will be things that other people can relate to so that It becomes a cathartic experience for not only herself but becomes a journey that her audiences can go on, taking them from point A to point B; from one place to a better place.
Graham adds that it freed her from the shackles in her own mind, and if she was free then others could be freed as well. “That’s why I did it!” exclaims Graham. She goes on to add that the play was written because she had never seen a movie that dealt with race in an honest way. She always felt that people bypassed the issue but never tackled it straight forward.
As a young aspiring actress Graham worked with renowned acting coach Sanford Meisner. In fact the opening of the play is set in the small Caribbean island of Bequia where Meisner frequently took his students to study. Graham says that this was a magnificent source of inspiration in her youth.
Since then Graham has indeed broken a lot of ground as a black actress. As a direct result of her undeniable talent Graham was accepted into acting companies in New York that had no black members at all, integrating them in the process and paving the way for others who would follow. “An articulate dark skinned woman wasn’t what Hollywood expected in a person like me” Graham explains. “The way I looked and the way I acted did not match the images the way Hollywood wanted to portray”. “I wasn’t a cliché, I wasn’t a stereo type”. So unique was her character and potential that Graham was chosen to perform even roles not written for black actors, however blackness was always and issue, and even at her best she had to struggle to obtain what she rightfully deserved. It was difficult to say the least. This acted as an impetus for Graham to create opportunities and work for herself. “I knew that if I wanted to work in this business and have any chance of survival I would have to take care of myself the best way I knew how, which was to create my own opportunities”. Out of this consciousness Spirit Awakening was born.
Graham has taken on many other roles in the fields of acting and philanthropy. She has had roles in American Pie 1, Danika, General Hospital. Most recently she acted in an independent film for actress/producer Tangy Miller entitled “Guardian of Eden”. She has also done several commercials for television. Of Spirit Awakening , the LA Times wrote “lifts the solo dramatic genre to heights rarely reached.” Unblinded by her successes in performance Graham explains that she is constantly auditioning. Her hard work has not gone unrewarded and for the proactive actress this is actually a very fertile time. Opportunities abound.
Graham believes that one should not stop the creative process just because the environment they find themselves in is not exactly supportive of their endeavors. “You have to find a way to make it work and to be noticed. For me the best weapon was my art, my gifts and my talent”. She uses this fully stocked armory to respond to the negativity, to the racism and narrow mindedness with her work.
Graham sees her potential as limitless and envisions Spirit Awakening making it to film in the near future. She has been working with Robert Chartoff (Academy award winning producer of Rocky) on bringing this dream into fruition, with the story visible on the silver screen.
Besides being an accomplished actress and writer Graham runs the non-profit organization Spirit Awakening Foundation, which was founded in 1995. This African queen works with the likes of gangsters and juvenile offenders serving to help repair and awaken the broken spirits of these unfortunate and misguided few.
As a testament of her sincerity to the cause she champions, Graham hosted this event which was held at Agape International Spiritual Center on July 12, 2009 in honor of the troubled souls she has come into contact with over the years. Appropriately entitled “Voices of the Unheard” a segment delivered just prior to Graham’s performance brought the audience closer into the worlds of a few of these young individuals through poetic performance. The young detained authors of the poems were supposed to be given leave to attend the performance, however at last minute their attendance was denied by ‘the system’. Their heart-felt, often bluntly honest poems were delivered by other young orators. Graham has managed to bring both worlds together into a spectacular performance encouraging her audience to engage in dialogue with their outer worlds as well as a dialogue with themselves.
Akuyoe Graham is an extraordinary woman playing many roles in reality, that of actress, teacher, writer, philanthropist and even that of the Queen Mother of Berekusu, a small village in Ghana. When asked who Akuyoe Graham is, she politely responds, “I am the African who knows the strength of each tight curl upon her head”.