Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “brownsville song (b-side for tray)” – Beyond the Theatre

BS_3x3 updated art~posted by Abby B.

When high school senior Tramaine (“Tray”) Berry Thompson is killed by a random act of gun violence, his family and friends seek hope and resilience in their memories of his vibrant, all-too-brief existence.

Stories like Tray’s are sadly all too common in America today. In fact, playwright Kimber Lee was inspired to write brownsville song (b-side for tray) after learning about the untimely death of a young boxer in a Brooklyn gang shooting. You can learn more about the development of brownsville song here and attend the play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre March 25 – April 24.

Explore the themes of brownsville song further in these titles from the Library’s collection:

Our Lives MatterOur Lives Matter: The Ballou Story Project, Vol 2.

Thirty teen writers of color from Frank W. Ballou High School, located in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood similar to Brownsville, share their stories in this powerful collection of personal writing on race, inequality, violence and justice. Like Tray, who insists, “Poor black boy from the violent ghetto. That ain’t my life. Ain’t gon be my life,” these writers challenge readers to see their full humanity, not bleak stereotypes.

GhettosideGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

Hundreds of young men of color are killed by gang violence every year. All too frequently, their stories remain unknown. Los Angeles Times journalist Leovy follows the case of one such individual, 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle, who was killed in South Central LA in 2007, as she investigates the failures of the system to stop and prevent this tragic, staggering loss of life in vulnerable communities.

HowItWentDown5How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

What really happened on the day 16-year-old Tariq Johnson was shot and killed on the corner? No one in his troubled but tight-knit community agrees, but they all have opinions. Magoon deftly weaves together the voices of multiple, often contradictory narrators to tell Tariq’s story in this sobering, thought-provoking teen novel.


Men We ReapedMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Kimber Lee wrote brownsville song  “to bear witness somehow, to not let this person’s passing just flicker by and disappear.” A similar motivation animates Ward’s elegiac memoir, in which she recounts the lives of five young Black men – her brother, cousin and three friends – that she lost in four years.


Fruitvale StationFruitvale Station

Based on a true story, this award-winning film dramatizes the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American man from Oakland, California, who was shot and killed by a transit police officer in 2009.  Fruitvale Station presents a moving and multifaceted portrait of a young man seeking a new life as well as the lives he touched before his untimely end.


Lee’s hope for brownsville song is that it will “provide a space for conversations.” We are thrilled to announce that she will be joining the Teen Social Hour at the Rainier Beach branch on Wednesday, March 30th from 3 to 6 pm to talk about the play and its themes with local youth. This event is free and open to all ages.

If you can’t make it to this event, or want more books, movies and music related to brownsville song, check out this resource list.

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