We got some grassroots people getting together to gripe. It doesn't change the law. What does it have to do with me?
Thurgood Marshall — Scene 6

Topeka, Kansas Premiere of Now Let Me Fly

The Topeka Reading

On May 17, 2004 at 7 p.m. (Central Daylight Time), the Brown Foundation presented a star-studded reading of Now Let Me Fly at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. This concert reading was the closing event of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and dedication of the National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas.


Photograph: Bill Curtis.Bill Kurtis is a Kansas native and the anchor and Executive Producer of A&E's Cold Case Files and The History Channel's upcoming series Investigating History. He also anchors American Justice for A&E. Kurtis is president of the Chicago-based Kurtis Productions. Mr. Kurtis began his career at Topeka's WIBW. Learn more about Bill Kurtis.

Photograph: Cheryl Brown Henderson.Cheryl Brown Henderson is one of three daughters of the late Rev. Oliver L. Brown, who, in the fall of 1951, along with 12 other families, led by attorneys for the NAACP, filed suit in behalf of their children against the local Board of Education. Their case resulted in the 1954 landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education. Ms. Henderson currently serves as President and CEO of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, which she founded in 1988. She is also owner of Brown & Brown Associates, an educational consulting firm and has an extensive background in education, business and civic leadership.


Featured Performers

Photograph: James McDaniel.Photograph: James McDaniel and Roger Aaron Brown rehearsing Now Let Me Fly.James McDaniel read the part of Thurgood Marshall. McDaniel played Lieutenant Arthur Fancy on NYPD Blue from 1993-2001. McDaniel won the prestigious Obie Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his portrayal of Wendall in the New York stage production of Before It Hits Home. He also received the Clarence Derwent Award for his performance as Paul Portier in the Tony Award-winning Broadway play, Six Degrees of Separation. McDaniel appeared on Broadway in Someone Who'll Watch Over Me. Besides NYPD Blue, McDaniel has appeared in numerous television series including Civil Wars, L.A. Law, Gabriel's Fire and Crime Story.

Photograph: Roger Aaron Brown.Roger Aaron Brown read the part of Charles Houston. Brown plays Chief of Patrol, Joe Noland, on The District. He has appeared on stage in Hamlet at the New York Public Theater, The Merchant of Venice at A.C.T. and Romeo and Juliet at the L.A. Shakespeare Theater. Brown has had guest-starring appearances in the series Judging Amy, Diagnosis Murder and JAG, as well as Party of Five, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper and The Hughleys. He was a regular in On Our Own and had a recurring role in the series I'll Fly Away. He starred in the daytime drama Days of Our Lives. Brown's feature-film credits are Moon Over Parador, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, China Moon, RoboCop 2, Action Jackson, Tall Tale, DNA and Galaxis.

Photograph: Yolanda King.

Yolanda King has combined her involvement with human rights organizations and causes with her artistic pursuits. Ms. King read several parts: Sarah Bulah, Mother in Congregation, Lucinda Todd, and Reporter #2. Many of King's stage and movie roles reflect her interest in social change and include portrayals of Rosa Parks in the NBC-TV movie, King; of Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X in the film, Death of a Prophet; and a cameo appearance in Hopscotch. She portrayed "Mrs. Crawford" in the 1996 HBO special America's Dream and was featured as "Reena Evers" in the Golden Globe-nominated film, Ghosts of Mississippi. During the summer of 1998, she co-starred as "Miss Bright" in Selma Lord Selma, the two-hour telepic based on two girls' experiences during "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama for ABC's Wonderful World of Disney. [Note: Ms. King passed away in 2007.]

Actors (in alphabetical order) and Their Roles

Musical Performers

Photograph: Queen Bey.Queen Bey is has been hailed as Kansas City's Ambassador of Jazz and will be performing during the reading. A classy, scat-singing vocalist, she brings to mind such musical legends as Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. Her repertoire ranges from blues and ballads to classic jazz, scatting, and improvisation. Ms. Bey is also a talented actress and composes and arranges music. Queen Bey has performed in concert halls and theatres throughout the world, delighting audiences in South America, Europe, Africa and the United States. Learn more about Queen Bey at her website.

Photograph: Kelly Hunt.Kelley Hunt performed with Queen Bey during the reading. Ms. Hunt's soulful, powerful voice and remarkable range allows her to boil down emotional issues, personal experiences and observations to simple, direct, fiery arrows aimed right at the heart. She has naturally combined the influences of R&B, roots rock, blues, gospel, folk and soul into her own style and sound wrapped in an earthy Midwestern identity. The sound of the part of the country where she grew up (the grasslands of Kansas' Flint Hills) is unmistakably in her phrasing and delivery as well as in her rush toward the substance and depth in the subjects she writes and sings about. Learn more about Kelley Hunt at her website.

Ambassadors for Christ Music Ministry of The Historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama) performed as part of the reading. The "Ambassabors" is comprised of approximately 40 singers who are committed and dedicated to excellence in music ministry. Since its organization in 1873, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church has had a formally organized music ministry. During the turbulent times of the 1960's and the subsequent bombing of the church, the choir was a stabilizing force and served as a great source of encouragement and comfort as they led the congregation in worship each Sunday. The choir is under the direction of Samuel R. Robinson, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The core group is comprised primarily of singers ranging from 20 - 60+ years of age. Members represent myriad occupations, i.e.: retired and current educators, administrators, bankers, engineers, nurses, teachers, students and even a heart surgeon. Accompanying musicians are Russell K. Lee (accompanist) and Lomie Dial (percussionist).

Musical Accompaniment

Al Berman: bass
Rick Reed: drums


Photograph: Kevin WIllmott.Kevin Willmott directed the Topeka concert reading of Now Let Me Fly. He has recently been in the spotlight for his film CSA: Confederate States of America which premiered to four sold out shows at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. IFC Films purchased the distribution rights to the film. A native Kansan, Kevin also wrote, directed and produced the film Ninth Street with Isaac Hayes and Martin Sheen and has written scripts for a number of television and big screen films. Besides producing and directing films, Kevin teaches in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Kansas. Learn more about Kevin Willmott.

Executive Producer

Photograph: Oz Scott.Executive Producer Oz Scott directed for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf at the Public Theatre, on Broadway and on PBS. Oz has made a career directing and producing for both film and television, including The Cosby Show, Ali MacBeal, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Cheetah Girls, The District, and many others.


Photograph: Scott Richardson.Producer Scott Richardson has been an executive at both A&E and ABC television networks and has worked as producer for Kurtis Productions and The History Channel. He is currently producing and developing several film and television projects and is a Senior Consultant for Kurtis Productions, Inc. Scott is a native Kansan with over 20 years of experience working in national television and performing arts programming.

Visuals Designer

Photograph: Mike Wood.Mike Wood has been the Executive Director of Wichita State University's Media Resources Center since 1990. He has led the Center in programming a cable television station and a public radio station, designing multimedia classrooms, providing distance education via interactive television and the web, and producing digital promotional materials. Mike has an MS in instructional design from Kansas State University and an MFA in cinema/television from the University of Southern California. He was a directing intern with the American Film Institute. Mike has written and directed a number of award-winning films and videos, including 15 tributes to American playwrights, for the William Inge Theatre Festival.


Photograph: Marcia Cebulska.Learn more about award-winning playwright Marcia Cebulska.


Wright/Laird Casting, Kansas City, Missouri