Talia Esther Olayiwola , SEO London candidate 2022
The trip to see To Kill a Mockingbird provided a great opportunity to experience an entertaining and thought-provoking play, while meeting Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) London staff and students.
We began the trip at Monga's Fried Chicken, a Taiwanese street food restaurant famous for serving enormous portions of delicious fried chicken. Somewhat ironically, we bonded over our shared love of fitness (ranging from boxing to tennis to yoga) and exchanged "gym-networking" anecdotes. We then walked over to the theatre, eagerly anticipating the play, overjoyed to find that we had been gifted some of the best seats in the house.
I first read To Kill a Mockingbird as a child; the Pulitzer Prize winning story of racial injustice opened my eyes to the power and perils of legal systems. and the play did not disappoint; the dialogue was punchy and liberally sprinkled with humour. The costumes and set design were inspired - the porches with iced tea and colourful dresses transported me to the American South.
Rafe Spall was an electrifying Atticus Finch, conveying intelligence, and compassion through his relentless pursuit of justice. The role of Bob Ewell, the farmer who instigates the false accusation against Tom Robinson, was powerfully played by Patrick O’Kane, Bob's words were laced with hatred; the misplaced rage he felt towards African Americans was painfully palpable. I watched in horror as Bob's virulent racism seeped through the veil of human decency to infect well-meaning townsfolks. As such, the tragic of conclusion of the play - an innocent man found guilty - felt inevitable, as did his murder.
As I child I was dazzled by Atticus' intelligence. As an adult, I was disappointed by Atticus, irritated by his naïve faith in the "decency" of an all-white jury and the justice system. Atticus had failed to understand that America's justice system was not neutral; it was not designed to cater for African Americans.
Like Atticus' friend and housekeeper Calpurnia (masterfully played Pamela Nomvete), I felt the jury were "monsters before they walked into the courtroom, and murderers when they walked out". I was also haunted by Atticus' words: "a man must have his dignity", and yet, like Calpurnia, I struggled to reconcile how one could give dignity to all - including people like Bob Ewell, without disrespecting truly decent people - like Tom Robinson.
As we walked home and shared my thoughts with Chang (Chang Yate Tan, SEO London's chief programme officer), he suggested that heroism lies in the constant commitment to being a force for good; Atticus' heroism lay in his determination to give dignity to all - despite challenges, despite failure, despite people sometimes paying the ultimate price, their lives.
The trip reminded me of the power of art to reveal hidden stories and change perspectives.
Through reflecting on the play, I realised that every generation makes mistakes, and although attempts to create a better world may fail, what matters is that one persists in being a force for good.
Atticus had not failed to grasp the limitations of the American justice system; by seeking justice for Tom Robinson, Atticus had insisted on the courts, the law, and the jury being fit for purpose. He also had insisted on the world being better, and like him, we too must persist in seeking out and creating that better world.
I am really grateful to SEO London for not only providing training, mentorship and career advice, but also for providing such a wonderful opportunity for candidates like me to experience art and be inspired to positively impact the world!”