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Sandra "SANDI" Clark

You can meet up with Portsmouth Branch NAACP member Sandi Clark in lots of places throughout the Seacoast--if you can keep up with her, that is.

Sandi's love of people, family, theatre, and the arts shines through in a wide variety of activities, most of which aim to help other folks enjoy life and appreciate it as much as she does.

This past summer, she took on the big task of serving as coordinator of Manchester, NH's annual New England African/Caribbean Festival. This year's event featured special guest, Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotel-keeper immortalized in the film,"Hotel Rwanda".

"I was really, really excited about having him here," she says, "especially after I'd watched the movie and realized that what had happened there was something so big, and simply hadn't been covered by US media at all. I couldn't wait to meet him and was almost ready to fall at his feet. The movie did portray him very realistically, too."

Whether it's creating a "tent city" in her Newington backyard for a family reunion of up to 100 each summer or carrying out her work as subscriptions, groups sales manager and box office supervisor at Portsmouth's Seacoast Repertory Theatre (SRT), Sandi has a way of bringing people together. As a member of the SRT development team, she also oversees the theatre's rentals and is a major player in all special events, including one of her own creations, the annual "Set the House on Fire" gospel concert to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. each January.

Sandi serves on the board of directors of the Seacoast African American Cultural Center and is a member of the Portsmouth Chamber's Tourism Committee and the Blues Bank Collective.  She has also offered her service to the Portsmouth NAACP Branch in many ways, including as a member of the Freedom Fund Committee.

"The reason I especially like being involved in the work of organizations like this is not just because they're concerned with civil rights, and not just because I'm black, but because of how they really try to embrace everyone, and how white folks and black folks work together within them," she says.

Her latest - and most visible - contribution in her work with NAACP is in overseeing the development of the branch's newly launched web site, which was designed and donated through the generosity of Harbour Light Strategic Marketing. It was done "with the generous donation from Bill Savoy, owner of Harbour Light Strategic Marketing, and the hard work of Sherry Labonte, who took the committee's ideas and ran with them. What a wonderful job Sherry did with the design."

Born in Lowell, MA, Sandi grew up in Elmira, NY. "Although my mother doesn't like to admit that my family was poor, we certainly were. My dad worked hard, having 10 children  -- sometimes two jobs -- and my mother worked outside the house later on, when we were older. Yet we were so rich in the ways we cared about each other, and the way we stay in contact now."

Through the years, Sandi kept her New England connection through visits to her grandmother in Manchester, NH, who she says "was like my second mother. When my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 30, my grandmother left her home in Lowell to move up to New Hampshire to take care of the four children who had lost their mother." Sandi would come to visit her most summers, and also during the winter-holiday break, to help take care of her cousins.

Finally, when her grandmother's diabetes got bad enough, Sandi felt that it was her grandmother's turn for someone to come and care for her. "I came to back to New Hampshire and never left. When I came over to Portsmouth one night with a friend to hear some music, I discovered how much I liked this town, and I also took a liking to the guy who was performing that night," she smiles. The R&B musician in question, Jim Kaddy, can be heard playing out in many local music venues today.

It would make sense that Sandi would wind up working for Seacoast Rep, because theatre has long been in her blood and she has acted in stage productions for most of her life.

A year into her work at SRT, she auditioned for her first role in more than two decades.

In the interim, she says, "she was busy being a single parent to sons Kenneth and Christopher, who are, respectively, a social worker and a dance teacher today. Music-lovers just like their mom, they each also love to DJ, she says.

Since then, she has performed regularly throughout the Seacoast over the last 10 years. Her knowledge of local theatre played a major role when, in April of 2005, Sandi launched a project designed to increase community awareness about diversity within the human experience. The Jukwaa Theatre Company debuted  its first main-stage production, "Fences," at Portsmouth's Players' Ring with an all-black cast.

"But it could just as easily have been all-white, or all-Asian," she says. "The theatre company's deeper goal is to acknowledge differences while underscoring the commonalities we all share, because it's the human condition beyond the differences that matters the most," she says.

Derived from Swahili, "Jukwaa Mazoa Vifiko," the company's full formal name, means "stage production as stage of a journey."

"That's what I'm hoping that it will do, take audiences on a journey that, while it explores the differences between us, also brings forward what we all share, what we all have in common."

The company plans other short-run plays for local stages, as well as a touring approach that will incorporate a traveling component to bring this kind of theatre to schools and other settings. In Chautauqua-style tradition, each actor would remain in character throughout the visit, she describes.

While much of the Jukwaa's company's focus will be on life in black America, including an exploration of "heroes, legends and role models" of color who aren't frequently found in most schools' curricula today, it will also include great people of all colors, she says. "The important thing, after all, is to focus on what will help bring us all together."

Whether you find Sandi onstage, behind stage, or with her head to the task before her, you can be sure that whatever she's up to, it's bound to help us all be more aware of how much we're part of one big family.



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