Collage of pictures of Zimbabwe-born Ruva Chigwedere and Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. from Sierra Leone. Source of photos: Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. - Photo: 2024

Two African Students of Theater Win Major Soros Award

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 22 April 2024 (IDN) — Winners of a generous prize from the Paul & Daisy Soros fund this year include Zimbabwe-born Ruva Chigwedere and Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. from Sierra Leone. Both are in graduate theater programs in their respective schools.

The fellowship winners are children of immigrants, pursuing graduate studies in the U.S. The program draws more than 1,800 applications annually for just 30 awards.

Each of the recipients was chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to the U.S. and will receive up to $90,000 in funding over two years.

The winner from Zimbabwe, Ruva Chigwedere, was born in Harare and is a Mwenewazvo of the Tsoko-Mukanya totem in the Shona culture. Before joining her parents in the U.S. at age four, Ruva lived on her grandparents’ farm in Marondera, Zimbabwe.

At Harvard College, Ruva studied Shona language and did coursework on the Black diaspora. She performed with the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College and Harvard College Opera, trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and worked at the acclaimed American Repertory Theater.

As president of Black Community and Student Theater at Harvard, she worked to ensure institutional memory. For her undergraduate thesis, Ruva wrote “For Daughters of Ezili; A Meditation on Black Women, Subjectivity, and Romantic Love”.

Ruva graduated with a joint degree in theater, dance, media, history and literature. She was the granddaughter of the late Aeneas Soko Chigwedere, Mashonaland East governor and historian and a former education minister whose career was stymied by the political situation in Zimbabwe.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in acting at the University of California, San Diego and hopes to work in theater, TV and film.

Among her received awards are the Jonathan Levy Award for the Most Promising Undergraduate Actor; the Philippe Wamba Prize for Best Senior Thesis in African Studies; and the Kwame Anthony Appiah Prize for Most Outstanding Thesis Relating to the Harvard University African Diaspora.

Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone to Aminata Sumah and Saidu Tejan-Thomas. After the Sierra Leonean civil war in 2001, he migrated to the U.S., just as the U.S. was on the brink of its own war.

After earning a degree in public relations, Saidu cofounded an organization called Good Clear Sound to help others write and perform their work. He appeared in various theatrical productions and trained under Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates in the African methodology of Ritual Poetic Drama.

Saidu is committed to amplifying the voices of Black and Brown people. In 2016, he studied audio storytelling at the Transom Story Workshop after which he interned at National Public Radio and Gimlet Media, a national podcast production studio. There he coproduced Uncivil, a Peabody Award-winning podcast that told the story of the American Civil War from the perspective of marginalized people.

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Saidu co-created Resistance, a show about people refusing to accept things as they are. He documented the stories of everyday Americans fighting for justice—a teacher turned agitator, a designer turned politician, a student turned movement leader.

Resistance was the recipient of a Columbia University Dart Award. His work has been featured by The New York Times, This American Life, among others.

He is currently studying acting at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio. His MFA will go towards developing a practice that combines journalism and theater to support communities through the arts.

Daisy Soros, co-founder of the program, declared: “As we welcome these impressive new Fellows to our community, I am filled with pride and hope for the bright futures they will have professionally and as they give back to our country. Their stories demonstrate the strength and vitality inherent in the immigrant identity—they aren’t afraid to take risks and think big. Congratulations to the new Fellows!” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Collage of pictures of Zimbabwe-born Ruva Chigwedere and Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. from Sierra Leone. Source of photos: Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate

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