After remaining dark for several months, the Roxy Regional Theater’s marquee was lit on Tuesday, June 9 to convey a simple message: Be The Light.

“I was raised to always speak out in a manner of truth,” said Ryan Bowie, the executive director of the Roxy.

“I don’t know that I could live with myself if I didn’t stand up not only for myself but for leading an arts organization in town because art is meant to make you think. I think this event this evening made people think and hopefully they’ll come and experience some awesome theater with us in the future.”

The event, named after the marquee’s message, was hosted at the Roxy at 5 pm and featured several speakers, starting with Bowie and ending with Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts. The topic was racial injustice that has been brought to the forefront on the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The marquee has not been lit since the beginning of the coronavirus shutdowns, but Bowie felt that this was the perfect opportunity to turn the lights back on to convey a powerful message regarding a topic he felt strongly about.

“I really just thought ‘let’s flick on the lights’ and what better way to tie into that than by charging people to not only be the light themselves but in their own communities?” Bowie said. “Sometimes it just takes one light to turn a dark place into something somebody can see and feel comfortable. That’s what I’m hoping people will do.”

Following his opening statements, Bowie initiated a moment of silence that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds – the amount of time it took for George Floyd to be killed by the knee in his neck. It was followed by speeches from figures in the community including soon-to-be police chief David Crockarell, Kimberly Wiggins, Juanita Charles and Cynthia Pitts.

14-year-old Mikquala Skelton performed “Tomorrow” from Annie, using her experience as the titular character in a performance of the play at the Roxy. Skelton closed the event by leading the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace.”

Bowie hand-picked each speaker in order to have a diverse array of views, noting the importance of a police presence, political figures and powerful black members of Clarksville’s community.

Roughly one-third of Franklin St. was filled by attendees with police cars blocked off each end of the street to keep cars from interfering.

“I was beyond nervous all day long until this event,” Bowie said. “When my performers came and sang and rehearsed their songs, I knew that everything was going to be okay. The turnout was awesome, the response has been awesome, and I can’t wait for the ripple effects to see how it really comes to fruition as we continue this mission of inclusion and visibility.”   

The theater plans to remain closed until it can safely bring high-quality performances back into Clarksville, though they do plan on re-opening eventually. Until then, their message will remain above the streets of downtown Clarksville: Be the light. Be the change.

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