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The Next Louisville: Let’s Talk About ‘Pipeline’

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

The play "Pipeline" — currently in production at Actors Theatre of Louisville — begins in an undefined space. Over the course of the play, playwright Dominque Morriseau paints the worlds of mother Nya and her son Omari, as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of an altercation between Omari and his teacher at an upstate New York prep school.

“'Pipeline' addresses the state of racism and prejudice in this country, specifically in our school system and the way that people of color are kind of marginalized,” said actor Patrese D. McClain, who plays Nya. “Also, the dehumanization of people of color, specifically, young black men. The story does a great way of highlighting that without preaching about it.”

There are a lot of bigger social issues that inform the play, but one of the biggest is the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” for which the play is named. This "pipeline" refers to students who are referred to police or juvenile justice facilities after a seemingly-minor infraction in a school — the same kind of misdemeanor that at one point in time might have warranted an in-school punishment like detention.

Education advocates and scholars say there are multiple factors feeding the pipeline, including new “zero tolerance” policies and the fact that police officers are often routinely stationed in schools for security. And studies have shown that black students are much more likely to be disciplined — suspended or referred to law enforcement — compared to students of other races.

In a special broadcast earlier this month, we aired a discussion about "Pipeline" and these issues. It includes a conversation with McClain and Cecil Blutcher, who plays Omari, and a community conversation taped live at Actors Theatre featuring: 

  • Darryl Young Jr. of the Muhammad Ali Center;
  • Yvette Gentry — formerly with the Louisville Metro Police Department — who now works with Metro United Way’s Black Male Achievement initiative;
  • Sayheed Ashanti, a community activist and the father of four JCPS students;
  • Jaleyah Morton, president of the Black Student Union at Male High School;
  • Holly Houston, a family lawyer in Louisville.

You can listen to the entire broadcast in the player above, or read below for some highlights.

Actor Patrese D. McClain on what she hopes people will take away from the production:

"I'm hoping that our interaction, Nya and Omari on stage will then — when someone else sees some young black man who looks like he's got dead eyes, and looks like he's not there, maybe someone in one of our audiences will actually see that person as a human and not just what we normally do — and that's just everybody, we always want to categorize people and put them in kind of boxes. So maybe they won't see them in that box. And that, I have to believe is worth it, I hope."

Metro United Way’s Yvette Gentry on her 24-year career at LMPD:

“I think it’s important to say we have a lot of work to do. I went to 606 homicide scenes in my career. And I would always write their names down because it’s almost like a train that you see coming down the track, you see the wreck coming in some of our young people, and nobody’s there to stop it.”

Male High School Black Student Union President Jaleyah Morton on how parents can help students:

“Depression in the black community is not looked upon as a disorder, it’s like nothing wrong with you, you're going to be perfectly fine. It's okay. But at some point, you have to realize, like, we're not okay. So many times where I look on social media and my friends are crying for help and everybody says they're calling for attention; and that's not attention-seeking, we need help. And it’s like, we don't know where to look for help if every time we're telling you really help, you're telling us that we need to do our school work.”


The Next Louisville project is a collaboration between WFPL News and the Community Foundation of Louisville. For more work from the project, click here