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The Josiah Henson Project

The Josiah Henson Project by Cassel Miles
Posted on 11/12/2019
When I first became aware of Josiah Henson’s story, I saw myself in him. Like him I wanted to be the best at everything that I did. Like him I was arrogant and prideful. Like him I was strong, powerful and athletic. Like him I tried to earn “a kind word or a benevolent deed” for my efforts. Like him I found solace in God. And like him I had been grievously betrayed.

Throughout my life the role models who affected me the most where those who looked like me. I found that I needed to see myself reflected. When I first began tap dancing it was because I was emulating Arthur Duncan from The Lawrence Welk Show. When I became a high school hurdles champion it was because I was “being” the Olympic champion Renaldo Nehemiah. When I went to college to become a professional dancer it was because I was entranced by Gene Anthony Ray from the movie ‘Fame.’ When I began thinking seriously about acting I watched iconic actors like Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier. It seemed as though my role models were all American. Weren’t there any Black Canadian heroes? I needed to see someone Canadian who looked like me.

Race was an integral part of Josiah’s everyday awareness. Not so for me. It wasn’t until I arrived in Canada that I was made aware of my blackness. I was introduced to the ‘N’ word as soon as I entered the Canadian school system at seven years of age. Josiah lived with that degradation from his birth. That was a way of life for him. I couldn’t understand why anyone would fling such a hurtful word at me (it literally stings) and I really couldn’t understand how he endured the constant burden of that pervasive hatred and managed to rise above it. After many encounters with racism I became bitter and resentful. 

Where he chose not to escape in Ohio, I would have. Where he chose not to commit murder to avoid being sold in New Orleans, I dare say that I very likely would have. What I saw was a man who was very similar yet very different. And that’s when I knew that I had to know more about him, to become like him. What kind of man makes those kinds of choices? What values and principles guided him? Who else would benefit from the lessons of his story? Who was this man?

Through our production of Josiah Henson: From Slave to Saviour, our goal is to educate, to entertain and to inspire. We wish to thank the Limestone Learning Foundation for allowing us to share our amazing story with educators, parents and students alike.