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Written by Nambi E. Kelley

From New York, New York

Curriculum Connections
Outreach & Workshops
Minimum Tech
About the Company
Artistic Team
Critical Acclaim
Production History
Company Background

10 year old Jabari loves to paint. And through these paintings, he escapes the turbulent world around him and the reality of a friend hurt by police violence. In his dreams, he meets children and young people from the Civil Rights Era, including Ruby Bridges, Claudette Colvin, and others, who teach him how to be fearless. He also meets his hero, Barack Obama, as a 7 year old boy on the eve of the assassination of MLK, Jr...


Will Jabari be able to instill in 7 year old Barack the lessons he's learned and therefore ensure that Barack will have the necessary tools to become president? Will Jabari learn to take these lessons back into his own life and heal his community? Using rap, freedom songs, hip hop dance, history, and humor, this play explores what it means to have courage in a world where Black children, Black boys, are not safe.

This play premiered at Chicago Children’s Theatre in 2016 and was  a resident artist in the New Victory LabWorks program in 2019. It is being re-imagined to tour and for the digital space with a smaller cast and updated script with a premiere in December 2021 at EFA in Kalamazoo, MI.


We are currently looking for producing partners and presenters for a national tour in 2022-23. This project is also available as a digital performance option.

Best for: Grades 3rd-6th (8-11 years)

Audience Size: Small, Medium, & Large Venues

Interview with Playwright Nambi E. Kelley & Director Daniel Carlton during the 2019 New Victory LabWorks residency.

Trailer for Digital Production above.

Trailer for Live Production coming soon!

Performance during the 2019 New Victory LabWorks workshop

Interview with New Victory LabWorks Performer

Curriculum Connections

  • Fine Arts: Performance, Technology and Multi-media Design, Music - Traditional Negro Spiritual Songs and Freedom Songs

  • History & Social Studies: African American History including Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter

  • Emotional/Social Development: Self-Awareness, Social Awareness, Self-Management, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision-Making; Discrimination; Honesty; Respect; Challenging Public Perception; Personal Politics; Empowerment; Empathy; Agency

Curriculum Connections

Outreach and Workshops


Student Workshop
Following performances, the company can offer workshops for students that center on the unique way in which they experience the world around them and especially how they cope with difficult subjects and situations. Workshops would be led by a company teaching artist or member of the cast/creative team (either remotely by video conferencing app or in-person once we are physically touring the production). Using the play as a springboard for discussion and art-making, the teaching artist will conduct theatre games, improvisational activities, and Q&A sessions intended to stimulate these young minds around the subject of Black fear in youth. Students will be encouraged to share their experience of the play and to ask questions about the theatre-making process. The goal is to provide these young people with emotional and practical tools for problem solving while also introducing them to the wonderful world of theatre!


Adult Workshop

Another workshop the company can offer is  geared toward the adults who are navigating these issues with our young people. While children are at the heart of Jabari, it is monumentally important that their teachers and parents are also given tools and support. We will facilitate community conversations centered around childhood trauma, bringing in local civic leaders, therapists, and members of the police force.


Freedom Workshop

Lastly, an option for children and the adults in their lives to explore these topics together. For healing to begin, families must be able to engage in an open dialogue about fear. We will provide an outlet for anyone who’d benefit from a safe space with an informed moderator to discuss these important topics with their family members. 

Sensory Friendly Performances

JABARI DREAMS OF FREEDOM is available as a “sensory friendly” or “relaxed” performance if arranged with the company in advance and with specific direction as to what adjustments are necessary for your venue.

Minimum Technical Requirements

  • Load In Time:  4 hours (with pre-hang)

  • Crew Needs: minimum 2 crew for load in/load out; 2 crew to run sound/lights during show

  • Min. Stage Size: 20’ wide x 20’ deep x 10’ height,  4’ wing space on both sides

  • Load out time: 1 hour

  • In houses over 600 seats, sound support (3 wireless mics and transmitters) may be required

Minimum Tech
Artistic Team

Artistic Team

Playwright: Nambi E. Kelley

Director: Daniel Carlton
Musical Direction: Joe Plummer

Cast: TBA

There will be 3 performers and 1 technician on the road.

Teacher Response to December 2021 Premiere at EFA
in Kalamazoo, MI

Critical Acclaim

"This was perfect for my students. It was engaging as well as historical." -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI


"Good amount of history interwoven into an entertaining, up-to-date format that my fifth grade students could relate to." -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI


"...seeing it through a young boy's eyes helped the students to understand and put themselves in his position." -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI


"I hope this experience will give my students permission to express themselves and address their feelings and emotions."  -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI

"I think it's very important to get children talking and learning about racism and what it entails, what it looked like in history and what it still looks like today.  If it's something they hear at home or with relatives, we can empower them to speak their minds and possibly help to educate their families.  They are also the future and hopefully they can continue to fight against racism and help it to banish it forever!!" -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI


"I was a bit nervous about tackling such a controversial topic (BLM) in my school. But having the support of EFA allowed us to have thoughtful lessons and discussions on this topic. Normally I don't hear much from families on the AE lessons but I wanted to pass along this message I received from one of my families regarding Jabari Dreams of Freedom. "Whoever came up with this did an amazing job - {my child} has been talking a lot about the aesthetic Ed and is excited for the trip. I believe more (and more accurate) education is key to ending systemic racism and this is a definite step in the right direction for our kids." -5th Grade Teacher from Kalamazoo, MI

Critical Acclaim for 2016 production at Chicago Children's Theater

"Jabari, which imagines the young Obama in his bedroom dreaming with his mom, gives you an advanced sense of how pivotal the existence of that presidency might be for young people with outsize aspirations and enough caring adults around to tend to their safety and their dreams." -Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

"Award-winning playwright and actress Nambi E. Kelley has created an exciting new play for young audiences. It tells about a likable young man who, frightened by his own world, yet piqued by what he’s learned in school, time travels through dreams to meet Ruby Bridges, Claudette Colvin, a young Barack Obama and others. Through these encounters, Jabari experiences firsthand the lives and times of several young pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement." - Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review


“The show entertains and educates children and adults alike, nicely encapsulating important events and encouraging young people to effect positive change." - Lauren Whalen, Chicago Theatre Beat


“A love letter to Chicago children… Nambi E. Kelley’s Jabari Dreams of Freedom tells the story of a young Black boy from the South Side of Chicago who escapes the turbulent world around him through his colorful paintings, where he interacts with children from the past. Jabari’s dreams empower him to live courageously in the face of fear." - Terrence Pratt, Rolling Out

Productin History

Production History

JABARI DREAMS OF FREEDOM was first commissioned by Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell at the Chicago Children's Theatre in 2015. After a writing period of 10 months, it received its first workshop in the winter of 2015. The play then had its world premiere at CCT in 2016 directed by Lili-Anne Brown with musical composition by Jaret Landon. 


JABARI DREAMS OF FREEDOM was awarded a residency in New York City at the New Victory Theatre as part of New Victory LabWorks 2018-19, an opportunity made possible by generous funding from Playhouse Square. The residency included development, networking opportunities, rehearsal space, and multiple workshops over the course of the season that culminated in two public performances in June 2019 directed by Daniel Carlton. 


The pIay is now being re-imagined for touring and the digital space with a smaller cast and updated script.

For more information, please visit the JABARI DREAMS OF FREEDOM website:

About The Company


About Nambi E. Kelley:

Award-winning playwright and actress Nambi E. Kelley was chosen by literary legend Toni Morrison to adapt her novel Jazz for the stage (Baltimore Center Stage, Marin Theatre Company). Nambi also penned an adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son that has been seen at theatres across the country, most notably at The Duke on 42nd Street (Off-Broadway Premiere, The Acting Company), Yale Repertory Theatre, and the Court Theatre in Chicago (world premiere) where it is the highest grossing production in the theatre’s 60-year history. Several others of Nambi’s plays have had multiple regional productions including Xtigone (African-American Shakespeare Co.) and Hands Up: Seven Playwrights Seven Testaments: Dead of Night... (Alliance Theatre 2020). Nambi has authored plays for Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Lincoln Center (Director's Fest), and internationally. She is a former playwright-in-residence at the National Black Theatre in New York and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. She recently served in residence at New Victory Theatre and as a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow. Nambi has been recognized with several awards and nominations including the AUDELCO Award for “Best Production” for Native Son (Off-Broadway Premiere 2019); a Drama League nomination for “Best Revival” for the same production; the Prince Prize 2019; a Dramatists Guild Foundation Writers Alliance Grant 2018-19; and the Francesca Primus Prize Award 2015 and 2019 (finalist). Her current commissions include a play based on the life of Stokely Carmichael (Prince Prize/Court Theatre) and one on African American icon Dr. Maya Angelou (North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre).


On stage, Nambi has played the role of Nya in Pipeline by MacArthur Genius Dominique Morisseau, directed by Reg Douglas at City Theatre in Pittsburgh. She premiered Off-Broadway opposite Broadway great Jeff McCarthy in Jeffrey Sweet’s Kunstler, and she has played opposite such notable actors as Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Blair Underwood, and the late Patrick Swayze. Among a host of other acting awards, Nambi was nominated for a Broadway World Award and a Hattie McDaniel Award for “Best Featured Actress” for her work as Risa in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running (Goodman Theatre).


Nambi is a season three writer on Showtime's The Chi. As an actress, she has been seen on TV in Dick Wolfe’s NBC Chicago-based franchise of Chicago Med, Chicago PD, and Chicago Justice; and on CBS’s Person of Interest, Elementary, and Madam Secretary.


Nambi earned a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University and an MFA in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College. 

For more information, please visit Nambi’s website:

About Daniel Carlton:

Daniel Carlton is an actor , storyteller, playwright, poet , director, and award winning teaching artist who has appeared on New York, national, and international stages. His work has also been presented in schools, jails, homeless shelters, libraries, and every imaginable place to perform (except for outer space). Playwright credits include: “March On," based on interviews with attendees of the 1963 March On Washington and is currently touring. (recently sold out The Apollo Theatre school day live performances) "TIMELESS JOURNEYS” (a series of monologues based on the history of free African Americans in Brooklyn, NY, commissioned by The Weeksville Heritage Society, to highlight the story of this under told National Landmark). Co-authored along with Michael Green "A WHISTLE IN MISSISSIPPI" -the life and death of Emmett Till (currently touring) His verse play "PIGFOOT MARY SAYS GOODBYE TO THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE " (writer and performer) was produced by The Metropolitan Playhouse and has since both toured schools and is presented as one of the touring shows of The Negro Ensemble Company. Most recently, he was director of the workshop production of "Night Train 57 at the Kennedy Center in D.C , and “Saying Something “ at Columbia University's Miller Theater for “The While We Are Still Here“ project.


For more information, please visit Daniel's website:

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