Advocate for Inclusivity in Urban Economics Understands How Theatre Paves the Way

Elwood Hopkins, dressed in a dark suit with a red tie, smiles at the camera.

Elwood Hopkins is no stranger to the disadvantages faced by people of color living in America’s urban centers. In fact, he has pledged his career toward creating positive changes in the way American cities support their urban populations. He has led and advised funder collaboratives or foundation-led efforts formed around issues of urban problem-solving, racial equity, and economic mobility. He has led policy research inquiries, facilitated roundtable discussions, and authored policy briefs on issues related to urban governance, economic inclusion, and neighborhood revitalization. And as President and Managing Director of Emerging Markets, Inc., Elwood has helped bank branches and grocery stores succeed in low-income neighborhoods nationwide.

But why does this urban planning activist spend his weekends attending high school musicals?

Image of the late Craig Zadan
Craig Zadan

The answer has its roots in his late husband’s lifelong passion. Craig Zadan was a one-of-a-kind producer and arts advocate. After working closely with many Broadway luminaries – from Joe Papp at the Public Theater to Stephen Sondheim – he left New York for Hollywood. Craig’s entire professional life was focused on a single project: expanding access to musical theatre to more and more people across geography, income, age group, and especially race. Zadan knew he could reach more people via film and television.

Zadan succeeded in combating subtle and not-so-subtle racism as an early and steadfast pioneer of colorblind casting and an advocate for writers, directors, and producers of color. From Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Whitney Houston and Brandy to A Raisin in the Sun with Sean Combs to the Oscar®-winning Chicago and Golden Globe-winning Hairspray (both with Queen Latifah) to the live television concert of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar with John Legend (for which he won an Emmy® Award two weeks after he died), Zadan never stopped believing that creating a pathway for racial equality through musical theatre would make the world a better place. Zadan passed away suddenly in 2018 while still passionately living his life’s mission.

Supporting a new vision through the Educational Theatre Foundation.

Elwood helped ETF establish the Pathway pilot program in memory of his late husband. “Craig always marveled at how many successful people – in all professional fields and endeavors – could often trace their achievements back to high school theater experiences,” Hopkins said. “They drew lifelong energy from the experience of having worked collectively with a group to tell a powerful story about the human condition or to hear their voice carry across an auditorium for the first time. And that is exactly what students experience through Pathway.”

Using $250,000 raised in honor of Zadan’s lifelong passion to create the Craig Zadan Pathway Fund for Racial Equality in School Theatre, Hopkins and the Educational Theatre Foundation are supporting low-income communities of color by funding these schools’ productions of plays and musicals that reflect diverse stories and by bringing successful working industry professionals of all races to act as mentors to the students. 

The Pathway program recently celebrated its debut performance by a group of students at Tri-Cities High School, whose production of the musical Fela! inspired audience members in the Atlanta Metro Area, including Hopkins, who flew from Los Angeles to celebrate opening night with the cast. (Read more about Tri-Cities’ production of Fela!)

Two black students from Tri-Cities High School sing onstage in a production of Fela!
Tri-Cities High School’s production of Fela!

“I could not have been more proud of or impressed by the ensemble onstage and the backstage production team – or more affirmed in the value of this program,” said Hopkins. “Nicholas, the lead actor, told me how he has been researching Fela Kuti’s stance against totalitarianism in Africa, his interactions with AfroAmerican activists of the seventies, and the timeliness and relevance of his messages to racial equity and democracy today. Jordyn, the young woman acting as the documentarian of the production, described how she never before knew that being a documentarian was even ‘a thing’ she could do in life. She has been striving to contextualize her documentary, observing how neighboring school districts have already banned Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from student reading lists. Can Fela! be far behind? Craig would have been inspired by the depth, sobriety, and adult aspirations of these seventeen-year olds. And that is why a pathway is essential. Please consider supporting this important program.”

If you would like to support the Pathway mission, please donate to the Educational Theatre Foundation.

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