Zeus Walton (Brownsville Recreation Center)
I was born Portia and recently renamed myself Zeus. I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Bed-Stuy, and went to elementary school in the community. I then got bussed out from Bed-Stuy to Benson Hurst, New York as a result of the desegregation of the New York City school system, and from there it was challenge after challenge. I was in the gifted track and life became disorienting, mostly around my skin darkness. Kids started teasing me and my sister about how I spoke and the clothes we wore. We were bussed out to a white neighborhood, a white community, and there was an upset there from the people in the community. I noticed from the first day that things were not going well, so I put on this armor and became really clear that I will be a stand for human rights. Treat me human; it’s not a civil rights struggle that we’re in the midst of, it’s a human rights struggle. I wanted to be treated human. My parents grew us up treating people human, knowing that there was no distinction between me and other people, in terms of race and gender. I remember I didn’t know gender until someone said, “Girls don’t do this.”
Education was very important to my parents and to us. I excelled in school and then I got into college, but things didn’t go so well in terms of being swayed by my peers, and getting involved with substances. I just couldn’t get myself together, and I think I was carrying a lot of pain from all kinds of experiences growing up—racism, sexism, and all those things that I couldn’t do anything about at the time. I felt like I was alone and there was a lot of isolation. I eventually got a job working in corporate America and I got a chance to go to rehab. I went to rehab for twenty-eight days and I got a second chance. I’ve been substance free for over thirty years and it’s a day at a time. I have to reinvent myself every single day. And then I got in touch with my powers within me—going places, being with people, and making the difference wherever I go. Right now I’m committed to and invested in doing whatever I can to undo and eliminate racism in this lifetime. I’m working with organizations, and there are people committed to the same vision. I’m excited to be a part of what it takes to transform the world.
I believe that we need to have raw conversations that are relative to healing. We need to begin to look at racism, face it, and begin to take it apart and dismantle it. I look at my part, you look at your part, and we look at a collective piece together. I think that hatred toward skin darkness is still the American way and I’m out to confront that. I’m Buddhist; I chant “nam myoho renge kyo” and it’s a humanistic representation that I can go anywhere, I can be with anyone, at anytime. I live no distinction between us, but when I see you and you make a distinction, I see it. It’s real to me, and I wonder how do we get this out of the way? I believe anything’s possible—look at this production. It’s possible.
I found out about The Tempest while at the Brownsville Recreation Center, when I was going for swimming classes to try to heal my disability aquatically, through the advice of a friend. I went there and saw this flyer on the wall for open auditions. I ended up auditioning at the Public theater, doing Portia’s Speech from the Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strained
It falleth like a gentle rain from heaven…
That’s what I want. I want the quality of mercy not to be strained in this lifetime. I want gentle mercies to come and rinse and wash these racist times away. We have to embody a new representation of what it means to be heart-to-heart, human-to-human. That’s what I’m all about.