Linda Kuriloff, a South African-American high school leadership skills trainer working in the Bronx, attempts one morning to conduct a conflict resolution activity, only to find her students intent on hearing her own story of coming from South Africa to the United States. When it becomes apparent that doing so may be a more effective teaching tool in light of the class’s negative self-perception (which Kuriloff attributes to the inmate-like treatment of being run through metal detectors on a daily basis), she agrees.
Donning the role of storyteller, Ms. Kuriloff transforms into a colorful cast of characters, complete with singing and dancing, imparting lessons of identity, family pride, culture, and neighborhood responsibility. The story transports us from South Africa to Chicago as the Sithole family claims its Zulu heritage against the backdrop of academic America. In the persona of her father, Kuriloff sets a musical tone vast enough to include Zulu folk songs, American pop icons, and a Country Western hero, suggesting music as a key element in binding the family together; boosting spirits in celebration and being salve in tragedy.
Linda morphs seamlessly from her exuberant childhood self (desperate to have “normal” parents) to her professor father (contrasting the importance of rhythm in African music –and life-- to melody in the classical genre) to her practical mother (chastising ingratitude and articulating warnings) to her seventh grade history teacher (bluntly instilling humility and responsibility in his students). The journey leads both teacher and students through joy, struggle, and triumph as they come to greater understanding of each other, their neighbors, and ultimately themselves.