Local performer T. Mychael Rambo celebrates black men and their children in an event Saturday at the Fitzgerald.
T. Mychael Rambo ticks off the three incidents that aroused his inner paternalism.
First, working in a school residency, Rambo asked fifth-graders to write about their dads. Some got into it; others stared vacantly; one slid the paper off his desk and crumpled it.
Second, Rambo was emceeing an event for an African-American organization and announced he would give a door prize to the first man in the audience to come up with a photo of his children. Several popped up but when Rambo stipulated that the dads had to be in the photo, the men sat down.
Lastly, after a friend's death, the man's 13-year-old son came to Rambo for help in tying his tie for the funeral. Task accomplished, Rambo looked up and saw a line of young boys with ties in hand.
"Tie-tying has cultural significance," Rambo said recently. "It signals professionalism, potential. Not having that skill changes the horizon."
The incident gave a name to Rambo's efforts to create an artistic event for African-American fathers and their children. "Tying the Knot -- Songs of Our Fathers" will feature song, dance and spoken word Saturday night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Rambo is bringing a bunch of friends and artists, including poet Alexs Pate, singers Jearlyn Steele and Bruce Henry, actors Aimee K. Bryant and Kevin D. West and playwrights Marion McClinton and Carlyle Brown.
Minnesota Public Radio and the groups Dads Make a Difference, Save Our Sons and Obsidian Arts are joining in the partnership.
"If nothing more happens on the 16th, at least we have opened up a pathway," Rambo said. "Art opens and heals a wound at the same time."
Tying the knot means tying the threads of our community together, said Rambo, who speaks with the passion of a revivalist preacher about his mission to reconnect positive images of black men with their children.
"We need to elevate the voices of African-American men and cut through the negative images," he said. "We need to look at the choir director, the schoolteacher, the coach."
A father's ultimatum
Rambo was wasting a life in Texas when his father back in Massachusetts gave him a one-way ticket to Minnesota in the late 1980s. It was up to Rambo whether he would use the ticket to seek treatment for chemical dependency. He did the work and began slowly rebuilding.
His first apartment in the Twin Cities was across the street from Penumbra Theatre, where he formed a long and fruitful relationship with its director, Lou Bellamy. His natural talent was always there and as more people became aware of him, his career as an artist and educator blossomed. He does teaching residencies in schools and is in demand as an emcee, singer and actor. He has worked at most of the major theaters in the Twin Cities. He won a Sally Award from the Ordway Center and a regional Emmy for his work.
Though Rambo is not a biological father, he considers himself an artistic father and mentor. His "Tying the Knot" project is trying to create a community that talks about the role of men, the stability of families and the appreciation due fathers. The event at the Fitzgerald, he said, is part of the work "that gets me up in the morning."
"Service is the rent due for living on this planet," Rambo said. "Giving back makes you whole."