Rightnowish: Jarrel Phillips, Culture Keeper of the Diaspora

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“I’m doing a flip off the boat,” said Jarrel Phillips, breaking down this past week’s performance at Remembering 1619, a play directed by Joanna Haigood of Zaccho Dance Theatre, which acknowledges the first shipment of enslaved Africans reaching Virginia 400 years ago.

“I’m one of the ones that decides, ‘I’m not having this, yo, I’m out,’” says Jarrel, summarizing his character in the play.

His onstage persona is much like Jarrel in real life: acrobatic, resilient and close to his roots. From the stage, Jarrel tells the story of Africans surviving in the Western hemisphere. In real life, Jarrel is part the story of how African Americans have survived on the West Coast of the United States.

His grandfather once ran a life insurance business in the heart of the Fillmore, on Fulton Street and Octavia Street; Jarrel and his family still use “the office,” as they call it, to this day.

Jarrel Phillips, warming up at Zaccho Theatre, as the prop slave ship looms in the background. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

Between that office, a few different studios and community centers around the city, Jarrel finds places to practice his work. He’s a multitalented artist who recently had a photography exhibition at the San Francisco Public Library, depicting international images of young people playing.

He uses capoeira-based dance to tell the story of resilience in the African diaspora, while simultaneously living the latest chapter in the story.

Jarrel’s next performance is on Sept. 26, as part of the Inherited Bodies event at the Women’s Building in San Francisco; details are here.

And to hear our conversation, click the link above.