Terrance Wilson Opens Four Seasons Artists’ 23-24 Concert Season

Part 1

By Tanya Dennis


On March 22, the Berkeley City Council passed its first phase of reparations to descendants of slaves.  According to City Council, the reparations bill was passed to address past economic inequities to descendants of enslaved Africans.

Led by City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, the reparations legislation was co-sponsored by Mayor Jesse Arreguin who said, “The time for reparations is long overdue. By beginning this process, Berkeley can become a leader in righting the wrongs of our history.”

Another co-sponsor, City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said, “We are overdue to confront the many ways our city has been active and complicit in discrimination against African Americans and launch a new path forward for the equitable future we all yearn for.”

Black Repertory Group owners Dr. Mona Scott and her son, Sean Scott, question the politician’s words when those speakers have ignored their commitment to fund the theater $25,000 a year for “maintenance and upkeep.” For 23 years the city has failed to keep its promise to the oldest black-owned theater west of the Mississippi located at 3201 Adeline Ave.

Sean Scott, grandson of theater founders, Nora and Birel Vaughn, says that the theater has been under assault by the city of Berkeley for years, and cites gentrification as the engine trying to drive them out of their location.

“The City Council general fund budget allocated the Black Rep $25,000 a year for upkeep and maintenance almost 30 years ago,” Scott said. “They haven’t kept that promise for 23 years, and don’t even pick up the trash from our location. Now they want to do a safety walk through to assure we’re compliant.”

Scott says this is not the first time they have experienced issues with the city, from whom they lease the building for $1.00.  “They broke into our building last year, prying the side door open to assure we are ADA compliant.  My grandparents built this facility to be ADA compliant and the city knows this.  We filed a police report but have heard nothing. They’re coming back on Sept. 15 looking for a reason to shut us down.”


In 1993, the Scotts were told to suspend all plays, then the city reneged on the Rep’s mortgage, set the news against them, and attempted to give the theater to the Shotgun Players.


Berkeley Rep Executive Director Mona Scott says that there were times the city supported them: during Gus Newport’s term as mayor of Berkeley from 1979 to 1986 and Mayor Shirley Dean from 1994 to 2002.


“Since then, there have been major disparities in funding between us and white theaters.   Berkeley Repertory in 2001 received $4 million from the city to build their theater, which they sold back to the city and the city even help them build an artist-in-residence facility.  In contrast our theater survives through sheer grit and sacrifice.”

Mona, who is Sean’s mother, frequently uses her Social Security check to pay theater expenses, and Sean works two jobs and says he contributes a portion of his wages toward theater operations.

After explaining the large scope of plans for reparations, Bartlett responded to questions about Black Rep. “There are plans that the theater will remain a Black theater, we’re just not sure about the current owners with whom we’re currently in litigation because they have not paid certain fees and maintained the building.”

When asked if he was aware the city had not paid $25,000 a year for 23 years for maintenance, Bartlett says he had heard that but was not fully aware of the situation and understood that to be an issue in the litigation.

American playwright, novelist and poet Ishmael Reed, a Black Rep board member says, “the city bends over backwards for white theater groups while we get nothing. They even cut our free lunch program.

“We were feeding kids lunch and snacks, a federal program that paid the city $25 for each lunch.  They cut us saying we didn’t meet census requirements and that if our kids wanted food they’d have to go to Strawberry Canyon, miles away from us.  If that isn’t systemic racism, I don’t know what is.”

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