You'd expect that a woman as gifted and gallantly outspoken regarding peace and justice matters as Vinie Burrows would be of substantial physical stature. But, the actress-activist is a tiny woman only 5 feet tall. In that compact little body resides a towering talent and giant fighting spirit.
The amazing mother/grandmother AND great-grandmother is definitely not a late starter. At the age of 15, she snagged a role from 100 other girls in the Broadway play, "The Wisteria Trees," starring Helen Hayes. From then on, it was smooth sailing as she appeared on TV and radio and in seven other Broadway plays, garnering great reviews -- but still, as she put it on a recent NBC-TV interview, roles for "Black women were either mammies or whores." She chose another path and proceeded to create her own plays -- one-woman shows featuring a diverse group of characters from African villagers to American slaves to contemporary characters of all ages ranging from children to elders. The people she brings to life in these stunning vignettes (perhaps we can title them Vinieyettes) exemplify the injustices she so hates. Her productions have been seen on Broadway, off Broadway, and in over SIX THOUSAND theatres, universities, and other venues on four continents. And they're still going strong as she continues to present them.
But, for Vinie it's not enough to fulfill herself as an actor-playwright. She's always wanted urgently to change the world with its racial and economic injustices and all-too-eager leaps into wars. For years, she has been UN Permanent Representative for the Women's International Democratic Federation, and as such represented her organization in Geneva, Nairobi, Copenhagen, Prague, and other cities throughout the globe. As of this writing, she is in the process of preparing for a mission to Brazil to speak before a conference of WIDF.
On behalf of civil rights, her "flagship" piece, "Walk Together Children," has been hailed as a classic in Black theatre. This chronicle of the African-American experience uses the poetry, prose, and the songs of Black writers to tell the epic story of raw survival after the auction block and to present the struggles and triumphs of Afro-descendant peoples.
She's also been a fervent advocate for peace, joining together with 17 other grandmothers in October 2005 when they tried to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting center to replace America's grandchildren as a protest against the war in Iraq. This action resulted in arrest, time in jail, and a six-day trial in criminal court, at the end of which they were acquitted. Impressed with her oratorical brilliance and command of fact and theory, the Granny Peace Brigade quickly assigned her the task of often serving as spokesperson.
I know by now you are amazed at how this petite bombshell could accomplish so much. But, wait, there's more to astonish you. Vinie is a scholar. Yes, the academic kind, with a string of honors. She graduated from a Harlem high school at the age of 15, a member of Arista honor society, with a Classics Award in Latin, an American History Award, and a prize for excellence in English composition and literature. In recent years, Vinie acquired a Masters Degree in Performance Studies, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Summa cum Laude. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Paine College, for ""achievements as artist, activist and scholar."
What makes Dr. Vinie Burrows run? She offers an explanation: "How impotent human beings are in the vast scheme of affairs. Nevertheless, that does not exempt us from using our skills, our passion, our energies to make right things that are wrong in our world and our society."
In summary, there are lots of astounding people in the world, but Vinie Burrows is in a category of her own. Wisdom is one of her chief attributes and is expressed so well when she says. "We are frail, we are small, we are fallible, we are weak, but within all of us there is a kernel of understanding that recognizes that we are indivisible, that we must unite in order to preserve not only ourselves but out world."
And, furthermore, she cooks up a storm! No matter how sparse the contents of her refrigerator, Vinie will whip up a meal fit for kings. Is this not a woman for all
seasons (and seasonings)?
Honors for Vinie Burrows:
Michael Tigar Human Rights Award, University of Texas, Austin
NYS Peace Action Award with Yoko Ono, Cindy Sheehan, Katrina van Den Heuvel
Eugene McDermott Award Council for the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previous winners include I.M.Pei, the architect, and Henry Moore, the sculptor.
Silver Gavel Award American Bar Association - video narration
Emmy Nomination - video narration
Living Legend Award of The Black Theatre Festival
AUDELCO Award, Best Actress of the Year
Paul Robeson Award from Actors Equity Association
JOAN WILE -- author of newly-published book,
GRANDMOTHERS AGAINST THE WAR: GETTING OFF OUR FANNIES AND STANDING UP FOR PEACE (Citadel Press, May 2008 -- available at amazon.com and in book stores), which is an account of her founding of (more...)