AGE is a Gift – Shelley B. Shelley

Well I’ll BDAN! AGE is excited to spotlight Shelley B Shelley, whose latest project is BDAN, a Black Diaspora Artists Network as part of the AGE Community Engagement programs.

Shelley arrived on the Portland scene in 1987 as a recently-separated single mother. Far from her mind was anything having to do with theatre. She put herself through Portland State University, graduating in 1991.  She landed at the Metropolitan Arts Commission as the Technical Assistance & Outreach Program Manager, where her first assignment was to compile a database and printed directory of ethnic minority artists and arts organizations in Greater Portland. She became involved with the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, the Homowa Festival, Sojourner Truth Theatre, and Hyalite Historical Society.

As she continued to advance her career in both public and private sector human resource management, the acting bug hit! Shelley had not been on stage in over 15 years. From historical character re-enactments to dramatic readings, Shelley rebuilt her confidence as an actor and in the late 90’s landed a role in Nightly Comes The Hurting Time with Bridge City Productions. Shelley has worked on stages throughout Oregon, as well as appearances in Texas, Missouri, and Colorado. Some of Shelley’s more memorable roles are Bessie DeLaney in Having Our Say (Jubilee Theatre), Mary Black in Gospel of Lovingkindness, Grandma in Smoldering Fires, and Cecilia Gilchrist in A Sunbeam (PassinArt Theatre), Viola Pettus in American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose (Teatro Milagro), Shakeina in My Walk Has Never Been Average (August Wilson/Red Door), and Beryl in Slipped in Between Things (Well Arts).  Shelley’s film credits include The Music Within, Mama Earth, and The Sacred.  Her television credits include two episodes of Grimm.

Shelley lives her life as a storyteller, whether it’s her own story, the story of her family and community, or the story of a playwright and artist. Shelley grew up around storytelling. “By the time a story was told, you could taste the food, you could smell the air. You could feel the heat, whatever it was, it was so animated the telling of it, that I just can’t imagine not telling stories to convey the message. I like telling stories; it’s who I am, it’s what I do”.

Shelley looks back at the storytellers in her life and highlights the role her mother played in her life. She was a rebellious woman who always went her own direction. Shelley’s mother had stopped going to college when she found out she was going to have little Shelley. That did not end her goals though. The moment Shelley entered high school and was able to drive, her mother re-enrolled into college.  She was a student and an employee and at 65 got her college degree. Shelley noted, “It’s never too late to do what you want to do, what you need to do.”

When asked how she sees aging as a gift, Shelley explained, “There is a freedom that comes with aging; a freedom to be who I want to be, not necessarily who society has said I should be.” Shelley recalled being a 60s and 70s kid, growing up with a lot of firsts in both her community and family. She felt there was a mold she had to fit, but “that’s exhausting sometimes, and I no longer feel the need to prove anything to anybody. I get my validation from within myself”. Shelley is passionate about the life age has presented her, she embraces it and honors her truth. “I’m enjoying this time of my life. They’re my 60s and this is what they are going to look like.” And now Shelley is ready to pour all of the experiences of learning and living into building Black Diaspora Artists Network (BDAN), an arts organization specifically designed to address the professional needs of Black Diaspora artists. She feels especially equipped for such a time as this!