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Local centenarians honored at Charles H. Wright Museum’s Summer Theater Festival

“Passing” playwright Dara Harper (center) poses with centenarians Jeralean Talley, 114, of Inkster (left) and Precilla Jessie, 100, of Oak Park (right).

“Passing” playwright Dara Harper (center) poses with centenarians Jeralean Talley, 114, of Inkster (left) and Precilla Jessie, 100, of Oak Park (right).

DETROIT — Two local centenarians were honored July 13 at Charles H. Wright Museum’s Summer Theater Festival. At the age of 114, Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Mich., is the oldest person alive in the United States and the second oldest living person in the world. She was joined by fellow centenarian Precilla Jessie of Oak Park, Mich., who is 100 years old.

Talley was born on May 23, 1899. She grew up on a farm in Montrose, Ga., and relocated to Michigan at age 35. She married Alfred Talley and had one daughter, Thelma Holloway. Talley has three grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. She leads an active life and is a member of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. On a recent fishing trip, Talley caught seven catfish.

Jessie was born on April 21, 1913, and grew up on a plantation in Blackwell, Ark., where she and her family were sharecroppers. She relocated to Detroit in 1937. Jessie has voted for 19 presidents and remembers hearing her mother say that one day there would be a “colored” president, when she was 5 years old. Jessie is especially proud to have cast her ballot for President Obama twice.

On left: Mayowa Reynolds in “Passing. On right: April Dae Rochon in “I’mma Do Me.” ABOUDI FARAJ PHOTOS

On left: Mayowa Reynolds in “Passing. On right: April Dae Rochon in “I’mma Do Me.” ABOUDI FARAJ PHOTOS

Both Talley and Jessie received a special tribute from Detroit native and Off-Broadway playwright Dara Harper at the Summer Theater Festival. Harper wrote a one-woman play, “Passing,” about the true story of her great-grandmother’s courageous choice in the segregated South. She was inspired to honor centenarians because her play is a portrait of her family history.

“It’s important to cherish our elders and their stories,” Harper said. “As a youth while visiting Manhattan, I saw my first Broadway play ‘Having Our Say’ about the two Delany sisters, the matriarchs of their family, who lived to be over 100 years old.

“Mrs. Talley and Ms. Jessie exemplify the spirit of the Delany sisters. I am so blessed to have the privilege to honor them. I know my great-grandmother, Minerva Roulhac, would be proud if she was with us today.”

After the tribute, the Summer Theater Festival kicked off with two performances: “Passing” and “I’mma Do Me.”

“Passing” stars Detroit actress, educator, minister and community activist Mayowa “Lisa” Reynolds and was directed by her husband, Lumumba Reynolds, a musician, composer and Specs Howard School of Media Arts graduate.

“Passing” was followed by a performance of “I’mma Do Me,” written and performed by Detroit actress, singer and community activist April Dae Rochon.

Also directed by Lumumba Reynolds, “I’mma Do Me” is a one-woman play that examines the state of poverty in America across several generations.

 

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