15 Mar 2023

SAU & Erika Alexander to Host “The Big Payback” Discussion and Debate to Advance Equity in Higher Education

Saint Augustine’s University (SAU)’s School of Arts, Social Sciences, and Communications (SASSC) will host a conversation and student-led debate around reparations for Black Americans inspired by the PBS documentary “The Big Payback.” The event will be held Tuesday, March 21, at 11 a.m. in the Seby B. Jones Fine Arts Center Auditorium will feature “Living Single” actress Erika Alexander, co-director of the film.

“The debates, which will expand to other universities across the country, unite the most brilliant student thinkers in a face-off at America’s universities and colleges debating one of the greatest questions of the 21st century,” said Alexander.

The debate format for The Big Payback event at SAU is performative. Students from various majors will produce the piece, primarily from the Arts and Communications Department (Film, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Media Communications). The production will combine elements of both visual and performing arts. The SAU Reader’s Theatre Troupe will perform while images that relate to reparations and the Black experience are in the background. The performance depicts the pros and cons of reparations while interweaving the history of Blacks in the United States. Attendees will also view parts of the documentary during the event.

“The students are well prepared and look forward to applying their collective artistic talents to debate this national issue creatively,” said SAU associate professor of theatre Dr. Kaye Celeste Evans, who also serves as the advisor of the performative debate team and chair of SAU’s Department of Arts and Communications.

“The Big Payback” documentary is based on the summer of 2019, when rookie Illinois Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons ushered in the first legislation of its kind in the United States, Resolution 126-R-19, which devoted funds to local reparations for Black residents in Evanston, Illinois. “The Big Payback” follows Simmons as she leads the community in the uphill battle to obtain reparations — payments meant to correct for the historic systematic bias inflicted upon descendants of enslaved African Americans.

“This documentary demonstrates the importance for the community to be aware of the issues of reparations and why it makes sense to be aware and to endorse and promote the conversation,” said SAU President Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail. “Much of the early activism and social justice work during the civil rights movement took place on HBCU campuses. Therefore we are delighted to be a part of this awareness development.”

The film features interviews with political figures, including Simmons and scholars on the subject, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, and community members who support reparations and others who remain skeptical.

“As a Black woman and a white man, Whitney and I come from polar opposite backgrounds, but our American struggles are inextricably linked,” said Alexander. “So, we’ve partnered on this rocky journey and used our skills as storytellers to help create a compelling conversation and shine the light on the visionaries toiling in it. We’re honored to do our part to energize and document this powerful movement.”

Color Farm Media has also partnered with Ben & Jerry’s, which will disseminate social impact materials and serve a unique flavor of ice cream in honor of “The Big Payback” following the SAU event.

The college will host a virtual watch party on Monday, March 20, for students to view the full documentary before the debate event.

In addition, “The Big Payback,” which made its broadcast premiere on PBS in January, is currently streaming for free on the PBS app and online at http://pbs.org/bigpaybackfilm. Watch the trailer here.