Demetrius Paschel's Shoe Shop Play
The American Diabetes Association's Alabama office is working with Demetrius Paschel to bring continued diabetes awareness to our community.
Health... History... Humanitarianism
Playwright addresses health through art and entertainment.
Demetrius Paschel wants to use entertainment to change minds, alter bad habits, redress historical wrongs and teach. One of the main issues in his first play, Shoe Shop, is diabetes.
Diabetes is a killer. Diabetics cannot produce insulin, the blessed hormone that converts sugars and starches into essential energy. Without proper care and intense lifestyle changes, diabetes causes an array of health complications, including increased incidents of stroke, heart attack, and blindness.
Twenty-five million Americans have it. A number of factors contribute to diabetes: lifestyle, genetics, and diet. And like so much else in the post-slavery America, African American men are disproportionately affected: twice as likely to be diagnosed, as well as more likely to suffer complications, such as lower extremity amputations.
Demetrius was educated in Montgomery, Alabama—the first capital of the Confederacy—and saw the daily reminders of the scars of history, along with the signposts of segregation: poverty, crime, depression, anxiety, poor diet, and unease. He saw the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement as they aged, developed diabetes and high blood pressure, and died before their time. This heart-breaking state of affairs led to his interest and further study in public health and obtaining a minority enrichment research fellowship at UAB.
He wrote in college, majored in business, and started out in the field of education. Time passed. He transitioned into the social service arena, writing always in his thoughts. Social centers—barbershops, shoe shops, restaurants, churches—remain important cultural institutions in black communities, and it was the concept of a shoe shop that inspired him to return to write.
Demetrius decided to weave together elements of his own life with facets of black health, black history, and small-town commerce. He wanted to interrogate history with his play, dig into the causes of the erosion of middle class African Americans, as well as highlight the dignity, community and resolve of African American solidarity.
Out of this tapestry he wrote Shoe Shop, a theatrical drama. A story of small business politics against the backdrop of race, prejudice and economic subjugation in the Deep South, the play follows the trials of a black entrepreneur in the 1960s. He's wise, witty, hard-working and able; he's a pillar to his community and faithful to his wife; he likes to play cards, drink, stay up late and eat whatever he wants; and he has diabetes, a disease that is killing him, unless he changes his life. Despite being successful and savvy, his business is in peril due to the municipal politics of the civil rights era.
The play—currently in the final phase of development, and set to premiere in Birmingham this year—explores several paradigms, but Demetrius feels that the heart of it might just be improving the health of all Americans in our age of the great obesity epidemic: "My vision for Shoe Shop," he says, "is for it to serve as an entertainment medium through art and culture that will address our social determinants of health and how they influence the vulnerability of our global health ecosystem. With plenty of drama and laughs."
Ben Beard is a writer and public school librarian who lives in Chicago, IL.