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Bundles Community Scholar Debra Ann Byrd Discusses Racial and Gender Barriers in ‘Reflections on Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey’

How does a person make it through the challenges of growing up in foster care and single parenting to living out their dreams of becoming a scholar and creating and starring in their own theatrical production? Theatre-goers followed one woman’s journey in BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl’s Journey last summer.

Described as a "living memoir," the one-woman drama stars actress, producer, and A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholar Debra Ann Byrd. Byrd decided to pursue acting professionally in 1990 after acting in several church plays. She was struck by Shakespeare, in particular. 

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. Something about that sounds familiar, like something I know, like the King James Bible, like Psalm 91,’” Byrd described. “Language I had learned since I was a young girl, from the time I was 14. … [Listening to that cadence] made me feel connected and comfortable,” Byrd shared during a lecture hosted by the Columbia University A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholars Program.

Her appreciation of classic English literature led her to reimagine her journey from her ancestral lineage and childhood in Spanish Harlem through adulthood and “a fateful encounter with a company of Shakespearean actors and her remarkable, gender-flipped journey on the road to becoming Othello.” 

Byrd is a Columbia University A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholar. The program is administered by the Office of Government and Community Affairs and the School of Professional Studies and enables independent scholars to pursue their lifelong learning aspirations, whether it be completing an independent project or attaining skills in a particular area. The program helps to foster and deepen ties between the University and the many independent members of the cultural and intellectual community surrounding it. The program was named in honor of longtime University Trustee A’Lelia Bundles in 2020.  

Read the Columbia Spectator’s full coverage of Byrd’s lecture here.