86: Meet Crystal Mercer

Crystal C. Mercer honors the important legacy of her father by fusing arts with activism, and the outcome is inspiring.

Photo by Joshua Asante

Photo by Joshua Asante

1. Name, occupation, years in LR, neighborhood: I am Crystal C. Mercer, native and lifelong resident of Little Rock; I have been in this beautiful city since 1983, only living outside of the state when I took a teaching job in Baltimore for a year. Hailing from the streets of Southwest Little Rock as a child, currently my residence is on the south side of town off Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. As a freelance performance artist, I wear many crowns. Some of them include: Sole Proprietor of Columbus Creative Arts + Activism and The Social Soapbox, Resident Poet of Foreign Tongues, and Co-Founder of No Cotton Theatre Company, a local non-profit theatre. I indeed do love Little Rock! This city is rich, beaming like the Emerald City in the Land of Oz. The history and culture in this town is like no other and I believe that Little Rock is on the way to being a cultural mecca in the South.

2. What are some of the local projects you've been involved in to preserve the legacy of the Little Rock Nine? The Little Rock Nine are apart of my legacy and the fabric that garments my existence in this town. Their families and people who fought for their right, and it was their constitutional right, to attend Little Rock Central High School are true titans of equality. I am connected directly to one of those titans, for I am the daughter of legendary civil rights lawyer, Attorney Christopher C. Mercer, Jr., I honor the legacy of my father by fusing arts and activism. He played a pivotal role as NAACP Field Secretary during the 1957 Crisis year, giving legal advice to L.C. and Daisy Bates, counseling the families of the Little Rock Nine, and working in tandem with Attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Wiley A. Branton, Sr. to secure legal victories for students of color. My father used the law and I use the arts. Projects that I have been involved in to preserve the precious legacy of the Little Rock Nine have included hosting workshops about the crisis year, facilitating seminars about the historical context of 1957 and beyond, and having open dialogue about the systemic racism that ran/runs with rage in America. However, the most important project that I've ever done was One Ninth, a play written by Spirit Trickey, daughter of Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine. One Ninth is told through the eyes of Brown-Trickey, when she was 16 years and first entered the halls of Central High School in 1957. It's like everyone that ever was... is living and breathing through my art. I am a keeper of this story. Additional credits include a number of plays and musicals in Arkansas, off - Broadway in New York, and internationally in England. I use theatre arts as a tool for empowerment, education, and social justice.

3. If you could only eat at one local restaurant for an entire week, what would it be? My absolute favorite restaurant in Little Rock is Loca Luna. I don't have a chance to eat there as often as I used to, however that would be the place where I could sit down everyday for a week and always find something fresh and delicious. It's romantic and charming, yet it's also causal and cozy. It is the perfect restaurant for any occasion!

4. Finish this sentence: My perfect evening in Little Rock involves...sitting on my porch, listening to Chaka Kahn or Diana Ross, or anything my RCA victor will spin, watch the kids play in my neighborhood, wave to the elders on their porch, and dream of days when everyday could be this beautiful for every living creature on Earth.

5. Where do you make sure to take out-of-town guests when they visit? Usually my out-of-town guests get the "Tour-de-Rock" when they hit the city, I take people everywhere! However, I do have a top three:

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site for the dynamic displays and oral histories of the Little Rock Nine, my father, and the citizens of Little Rock who were connected to the 1957 Crisis.

Historic Arkansas Museum for their On the Grounds program, particularly for my dear friend Nisheedah Golden who is a living history actor there, and their great exhibits.

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center for their history of African-American culture in the state of Arkansas, and for Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown-Trickey, local activist, and storyteller.

Editor's Note (1/16/17): For an update on Crystal, check out this Arkansas Life interview from 2016.