I’m The CEO Of The National Black Theatre—Here’s Why I Advocate For Storytelling!

As we settle into the soft life chapter of our lives, the biggest legacy work we can do is to find ways to record and tell our stories.

Sade Lythcott of the National Black Theatre
Photo courtesy of The National Black Theatre

I am a lifelong Harlemite, born and raised. So much of my worldview has been cultivated and shaped by the rich diversity of Harlem. To me, Harlem has a rhythm and a beat to it— it has a pulse. It orients itself more as a village than a neighborhood. It’s where people come to be themselves and surround themselves with culture and community. So much of Harlem has shaped the way I approach arts and culture.

Sade Lythcott- National Black Theatre
Photo courtesy of National Black Theatre

I don’t know if I remember the first time I fell in love with theater because I was born into theater. The National Black Theatre (NBT) was founded by my mother, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1968. After her untimely transition in 2008, I came on board as the CEO of one of the longest-run theaters by a Woman Of Color. 

I can tell you that I was bitten by the theater bug very early. Through theater, I quickly learned how stories can transport you to different places in the world and how storytelling can be transformative to someone’s life.

Theater feeds the soul, stimulates the mind, and activates the body. It gives us all an invitation to be present with the wholeness of who we are. It transports us to different parts of the world and different parts of our imagination.

Legacy: Following In The Footsteps Of A Visionary

Legacy is deeply important. The greatest privilege that I have is being able to run the National Black Theatre and being able to talk about my mom, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. She was a visionary. So much of my work is around making sure that she is remembered.

While my mother was alive, I was hyper-aware of how people rewrote her story and cast her invisible in so many of the things that she was seminal in creating or supporting.

A part of my “yes” to come on board the National Black Theatre wasn’t because I was excited to be in the space of the theater, but because I wanted to be a good daughter. My mother was a fierce woman, but she was also really sensitive and delicate. She was an advocate for communities of people but couldn’t advocate for herself. 

Now, she’s remembered within the context of her full contribution and it is the joy of my life to carry on the work that she began as an artist. I find myself in this role as an advocate for a person who gave her life to make our community a better place, our country a more humane space, and a champion of Black culture. She had the conscious awareness that our stories have a healing vibration in ways that other stories don’t. 

I approach this root work that we do at the National Black Theatre from a space of incredible and deep love. A deep love for our people. A deep love for our community. A deep love for ourselves. I find innovative and creative ways to translate that love through the practice of theater-making. 

Sade Lythcott- National Black Theatre
Photo courtesy of National Black Theatre

Shining The Spotlight On Storytelling: Writing The Next Chapter

The theater is a dream space. I’m constantly amazed by this art form that is as ephemeral as it is permanent. Theater is one of those unique spaces where you have to be present. If you’re not present at the moment, you’ll miss it and it will never happen like that again. Your breath meeting the breath of the performer, the beat, all of it is so ephemeral.

I have deep pride in my family’s legacy in the Black Arts Movement and the theater’s impact over the last half-century. I’m also aware of the privilege and opportunity we’ve been given to provide everyone with a seat at the table.

To me, the arts are a superpower. It connects us, humanizes, translates, and creates interconnectivity and deeper well-being among the people who get to experience it. Art is a portal for change. Art is a portal to understanding yourself and each other better. It is a catalyst for how we as societies can evolve. 

I have the privilege to wake up every morning and help the world to better understand my culture through the many sectors of artists that we support at the National Black Theatre.

Theater In 2024: The Power Of Dreaming Bigger

Sade Lythcott- National Black Theatre
Photo courtesy of National Black Theatre

Science and studies have shown that access to the arts creates deeper well-being within our communities. There’s so much to learn in participating in theater— even as an audience member. It teaches you how to be present in your own life. It also teaches you how to dream a bigger dream. It shows you the impact of what telling your story can look like.

Everyone is an artist, whether you consider yourself one or not. That’s why we should all engage in the practice of storytelling. 

Storytelling shapes and changes the world. As storytellers, we have this deep obligation and responsibility to tell our story well, to tell the stories that are not being told, and to shed light on the voices that don’t get the opportunity to tell their own stories. 

The Black Woman’s Legacy

As we settle into the soft life chapter of our lives, the biggest legacy work we can do is to find ways to record our stories, tell our stories, and create our own legacies for the next generation. 

Through our own stories, we pass down our traditions and rituals. Remembering who we are is ultimately the most valuable currency that any of us have. (I would love to have five more minutes with my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, to ask them questions.)

As Women of Color who are entering the soft phase of our lives, how are we telling our stories? What are we leaving behind? It’s not about disappearing. It’s about shifting from a space of labor to a space of peace and wisdom. 

By being our own storytellers, we ensure that we’re creating a legacy that the next generation can build from. 

To learn more about the National Black Theatre and to learn how you can support the movement, visit nationalblacktheatre.org.

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Harlem native Sade Lythcott is the Chief Executive Officer of the historic National Black Theatre (NBT), the nation’s first revenue-generating Black Arts complex and one of the longest-run theaters by a woman of color. As a leader and staunch advocate for women and people of color, Sade currently serves as the chair of the Coalition of Theaters of Color and sits on the advisory boards of the Black Genius Foundation, Art in a Changing America, and HueArts NYC Project.