Portlanders Kevin Jones and Lesli Mones founded the August Wilson Red Door Project in 2011 to champion racial equality and increase local access to the arts. Paying homage to late Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson, the organization’s name is directly inspired by the playwright’s works. The red door symbol is present in several of Wilson’s plays including Gem of the Ocean, the first in a series of 10 plays about the African American experience. Wilson used the red door to represent protection, encouragement and growth. Similarly, the Red Door Project adopts a hands-on approach in empowering all community members through education and artistic creation.
How does this play out? Here’s one example: Following the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent succession of police shootings of unarmed black men across the nation, New York’s New Black Fest commissioned seven black playwrights to write and perform deeply personal and moving monologues about their experiences with institutional profiling. Titled “Hands Up! 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” the 2016 production quickly sold out. The Red Door Project has staged over 40 “Hands Up” shows in Portland since its first premiered in October, 2016. The shows are complemented by the Red Door Project’s signature “talkback,” or informal Q&A session following plays. The Red Door Project uses this time to professionally facilitate direct dialogue about race and share personal stories and responses.
When not directing plays or hosting talkbacks, creative director Jones and his team also lead innovative equity workshops. These workshops helped businesses to diversify their work forces. At the heart of every initiative is the mission to cultivate an inclusive sense of community, regardless of color.