Celebrate, motivate, inspire – First-place 2024 Black History Month essay

Published 12:40 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Editor’s note: This is Smithfield High School junior Olivia Johnston’s winning entry in The Smithfield Times’ and The Schoolhouse Museum’s joint Black History Month essay contest. The second-place winner, Peter Thompson’s essay, can be found here.

By Olivia Johnston 

11th grade

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Smithfield High School

When asked to describe an African-American who has inspired me, the answer is obvious and immediate: Adrienne Warren. Adrienne Warren is a Tony Award winning actress who originated the role of Tina Turner on Broadway in 2019. More recently, she starred alongside Viola Davis in The Woman King in 2022. Her list of accomplishments is as endless as her talents, and rightfully so. Her voice is a powerhouse of melodic perfection, and her presence lights up the stage with an effortless but nonetheless awe-inducing deftness. It would be a privilege and a dream come true to witness her perform, even if it was from the very back of a dimly lit theater. 

It brings me great pride to say that I am currently attending the same school that she once did: The Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts. I am a 3rd year junior in the Musical Theater department. It is my ultimate goal to follow in Adrienne’s footsteps, and trailblaze through the example she has laid down. I have fought tooth and nail to be there; constantly recreating myself and evolving into a better version of who I am, and all that I will become. Not just as a performer, but as a human being. At its roots, performing is all about genuine human connection between the audience and the people onstage, an intricate display of culture and art. When I am performing, I feel free to let myself go, and allow myself to become a vessel for the person I am portraying. 

When Adrienne Warren played Tina on Broadway, she performed with the knowledge that the real-life Tina Turner was in the crowd, gazing upon her with the trust that Adrienne would tell her story with the commitment and accuracy such a legacy deserves. She became a vessel for Tina; an extension of her very soul. This is the true reason why Adrienne Warren continues to inspire me. She embodies the definition of Theater; she is intense, she is bursting with life, she is a vessel, and she is brilliant. Adrienne Warren is an inspiration.