Richelle Claiborne (Photo: Terri Allard/VPM)
Many people in the Charlottesville area know Richelle Claiborne as a singer and songwriter. Others are more familiar with her work on stage as an actress and storyteller. As an administrator at Renaissance School, she is referred to as “Mrs. Claiborne.” And at home, she’s “Mom.”
What you might not know about Claiborne is that she is the voice actor who represents historic figures such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Susie King Taylor in the award-winning podcast, Seizing Freedom. Highlighting true stories of Black people’s fight for liberation, progress and joy from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, the series illustrates the myriad ways Black people have sought and defined their own freedom in spite of the monumental forces at work to keep them from it.
Seizing Freedom, which recently wrapped up its second season, is a production of VPM and Molten Heart. It is hosted, written, and produced by Dr. Kidada Williams. Kelly Hardcastle Jones (also based in Charlottesville) is Senior Producer and a co-writer. Additional producers for the series include Lushik Lotus Lee and Ronald Young, Jr., with editing support from Jess Jupiter and Afi Yellow-Duke.
The podcast was recognized with a NETA 2022 Public Media Award in the Content/Podcast category and is included in the following lists:
Zinn Education Project’s National Report on the Teaching of Reconstruction
Princeton University’s list of summer listening 2021
Apple’s promotion for Black History Month podcasts, 2021
The Smithsonian’s inaugural year of Civic Season
Seizing Freedom was also included in Apple Podcasts Juneteenth feature.
I recently caught up with Richelle Claiborne to hear about her experience participating in the podcast.
Tell us what you enjoyed most about working on Seizing Freedom.
As an African American woman and artist, it was a gift to help tell stories that many people hadn't heard before. Essential stories that shaped this country and our heritage. Seizing Freedom is a unique blend of griot tradition, academia and artistry. Kelly Jones wrote fantastic scripts. Ron Young is a master of his craft (audio/directing). Thanks to them and the ancestors whose stories were being told, I was able to explore a part of my artistry that I had yet to play with. I found a new way to fall in love with acting. The entire experience was sublime.
As a storyteller, what was it like working on the series and helping to share this important history?
I was honored, humbled and invigorated by the stories we brought to life. The process was fun for me. I enjoyed finding new voices, new intonations, new accents and new attitudes. I got to be a part of history by sharing history, and that doesn't happen every day. We live in a world where you can be yourself to the nth power online, so much so that you're not even yourself anymore. Your voice can be so loud that it drowns out the cries of others. I was able to participate in something that cast a light on some of the unheard voices from our past. Something that gave a megaphone to the cries of the past that went unheard and hopefully will encourage those who are struggling today to continue to use their voice in the fight for freedom and equality.
What would you like listeners to take away from the podcast?
Make your voice heard. Our ancestors fought and died so that we could live. We owe it to them to not take our freedom for granted. We owe it to them to continue the fight for justice and equality. We are their greatest dreams realized.
Check out the episode, “Reframing the Narrative?” to hear Richelle Claiborne’s most recent performance on Seizing Freedom.
Stream and/or binge both full seasons of Seizing Freedom wherever you get your podcasts. To learn more, visit seizingfreedom.vpm.org.