NEWSPAPER: The Washington Times


Taking breast cancer awareness from Appalachia to Africa with “Mama Juggs”

Humor and poignancy deliver the message of Anita Woodley's one-woman show on breast cancer and three generations of women.Photo: Teenage Anita in “Mama Juggs” – Jason Woei Ping Chen

Sunday, March 25, 2012 – Appalachian Chronicles by Lisa King

WYTHE COUNTY, Va., March 25, 2012 — Recently Southwest Virginia residents were afforded a rare treat when multi-award winning actor and artist Anita Woodley brought “Mama Juggs,” her one woman show on breast cancer awareness, to town.

Anita, who is also a producer, director, writer, journalist, and healer, has a powerful message, one delivered in a way impossible to dismiss. It is kind and embracing but never pretentious. Her message stays with women long after the show ends.

Every community, no matter how small, no matter how far off the beaten path, needs a voice for social responsibility. In this neck of the woods that person is LindaLeigh “Lala” Irvin Portner. As part of her never-ending effort to empower and educate women, she arranged this memorable performance to honor of local cancer survivor Vicki Macallister.

The sole performer Anita is currently the award winning national producer for public radio’s “The Story with Dick Gordon,” but that is just one of her many accomplishments. Her awards range from The Harry Chapin Foundation for Hunger and Poverty to an Emmy with CNN for exceptional coverage of the 9/11 disaster.

Just recently it was announced that Anita is one of fifteen artists to receive the 2012 Ella Gountain Pratt Emerging Artists Grant by the Durham, North Carolina Arts Council. The grant will go to fund her new play in which she will portray the men in her family.

Tapping the Roots of Her Family

Raised in the housing projects of Oakland, Calif., Anita hit the ground running and has never let her humble beginnings hold her back. On the contrary, she has “tapped” these roots to create an award winning one woman show that even the most hesitant of women will admit that they were inspired by her performance to more closely monitor their own health.

Rather than quote statistics, Anita calls on three generations of strong black women in her family to convey common breast issues from ages seventeen to one hundred. It’s at times humorous, touching, and heart breaking, but always relevant.

Her teenage character, “Anita” wrestles with body image by stuffing her bra, convinced it will open up a whole new world to her in the process. The forty-something character, “Mable-Ree,” is perhaps the most compelling, dealing with a recent mastectomy. In addition to the trauma of losing a breast, she shares the issues left in its wake such as the daily cleansing of the scar and the two-inch hole left as a result of the surgery.

She shares her observations about growing up, which she sums up with one simple sentence: “Being grown ain’t about s**t.”

The one hundred-year-old character “Suga Babe” shares wisdom in her own unique way as well: “It take many women with titties to make the world go ’round.”

The characters reflect what women go through in the course of a lifetime. They speak to women boldly and unapologetically in a way that is both familiar and thought- provoking.

All three characters call for audience participation, done in a way that is as comfortable as talking to a close friend or family member. This serves to pull everyone in closer to the message without it being imposed. The contrast in Anita and her audiences’ background was soon erased, giving way to the power of her performance and the universal issues that all women face in the course of their lives.

Her Goal Is to Educate Everyone

Anita gave her first performance in 2009 and quickly realized she had a message for the masses, regardless of where they lived. That’s when she decided to use part of the money she had raised with her show for an ancestral pilgrimage to Cameroon, Africa. While there she did twenty-one shows in three months, and the welcome she received was overwhelming.

She traced her roots to the Tikar people of central Africa, where it was discovered she was the first African American  to come back to meet her ancestors. Because of this, she was honored with a traditional naming ceremony and given the tribal name “Bekang,” which means to go and come back.

Anita’s philosophy is to go where the message moves her, whether it is in a community center in Appalachia or a grass hut in Cameroon. What’s most important to her is to meet and educate as many people as possible while championing the fight against breast cancer.

The show was conceived as a promise to her mother, who died of breast cancer at age forty-seven, to challenge cultural taboos and stereotypes surrounding breast health and body image. Anita’s show attacks breast cancer on two fronts; by raising funds as well as awareness she makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing battle against breast cancer.