The Peculiar Patriot

A love story from both sides of the bars.

OCT 17 - 28, 2018

Peculiar Patriotism

Co-Presented with the Museum of African American History
and the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department

MON, OCT 22 @ 6:30PM
African Meeting House
at the Museum of African American History
46 Joy St, Boston, MA 02114


ArtsEmerson and the Museum of African American History invite you to Peculiar Patriotism, a discussion featuring Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins and Liza Jessie Peterson, moderated by humanities scholar Dr. Lizzy Cooper Davis. Peterson’s play The Peculiar Patriot interrogates the prison industrial complex and asks us how we practice patriotism by resisting structural oppression. This conversation will also uplift the experience of people who extend unconditional love to those in the criminal justice system. Join this panel as we discuss what this kind of patriotism looks like on a local level as well as Peterson’s perspective from her work as a teacher and artist in the New York state prison system.

Tickets for this event are complimentary and do not guarantee access on the day of the event which will be granted on a first come, first served basis. Please plan to arrive early to this event to guarantee your seats.


Museum of African American History
Sheriff's Department


Liza Jessie Peterson

LIZA JESSIE PETERSON is a renowned actress, poet, playwright, educator and advocate. Liza has written several plays including her most recent one woman play The Peculiar Patriot, which embarked on a national prison tour where she performed in over 35 jails and penitentiaries across the country. She recently performed The Peculiar Patriot, opening for Angela Davis, at Columbia University’s conference on mass incarceration. Her plays have been featured in notable theater festivals and performed in various theaters, nationally and internationally.


Also known for her exceptional poetic skills, Liza began her poetry career at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café in the mid-90’s and was a vital member of the enclave of notable poets who were part of the “underground slam poetry/spoken word” movement before it attracted television cameras and became a national obsession. It was this electric group of artists that inspired Russell Simmons to bring “spoken word/slam poetry” to HBO where Liza appeared on two episodes of Def Poetry. She has shared the stage with luminaries such as Nona Hendryx, Toshi Reagon, Amiri Baraka, The Last Poets, Craig Harris, Vernon Reid, Rakim, Carl Hancock Rux and Sandra St. Victor to name just a few.

As an actress Liza appeared in several feature films: Love the Hard Way (costarring with Pam Grier and Academy Award winner Adrien Brody), Spike Lee’s, Bamboozled, K. Shalini’s, A Drop of Life, (co-starring with Nandita Das which was filmed in Mumbai India), and Jamie Catto’s, One Giant Leap/What About Me, where she was featured and interviewed along with Tim Robbins, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Noam Chomsky and others.

Liza has taught theater and poetry to urban and incarcerated youth for more than 15 years and counting. She created and developed The Urban Folktale Project, where her students created original plays based on their most pressing issues and performed it at several theaters around New York City. The project was so successful that it received a grant from Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The Urban Folktale Project has successfully produced three plays. Liza remains steadfastly committed to this population of youth (both at Rikers Island and at community based programs) where she has discovered inspiration and light in a dark place.


SHERIFF STEVEN W. TOMPKINS, a member of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department since 2002, was appointed to serve as the Sheriff of Suffolk County on January 22nd, 2013 by then- Governor Deval Patrick, and was subsequently elected to that office in November of 2014.

As the Sheriff of Suffolk County, Tompkins manages all operations at the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Nashua Street Jail, and the Civil Process Division. In addition to providing care, custody, and rehabilitative support for inmates and people awaiting trial, Tompkins also oversees a management, security, and administrative staff of over 1,000.


As the former Chief of External Affairs for the Department, Sheriff Tompkins supervised his own division and was a member of his predecessor’s nine-person Executive Team, which was responsible for the day-to-day management of all Sheriff’s Department operations. He created the innovative “Common Ground Institute,” a vocational training and re-entry program that teaches vocational skills in a classroom setting; and he also created the “Choice Program,” which sends trained officers into the schools of Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop, and Revere to help young people see they can make positive choices for future success, as well as reinforcing the theme of respect for oneself and others.

Sheriff Tompkins is an engaged community leader and serves with the following organizations:

  • Chair of the Advisory Board of Roca, Inc.
  • Trustee of Roxbury Community College
  • Board Member of the Boston Arts Academy Foundation
  • the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which focuses on issues that affect young men of color
  • the Boston Private Industry Council.

Sheriff Tompkins served as former Board Chair of the Sportsman’s Tennis Club and as a former member of the Board for City Year Boston.

Sheriff Tompkins is a past-President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, a group comprised of all 14 Massachusetts Sheriffs that addresses numerous issues that have a direct impact on the entire criminal justice system. Sheriff Tompkins holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Boston College and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Massachusetts. He completed the LeadBoston program in 2004, is an alumnus of the Executive Session on Community Corrections at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a current member of the Emerging Adult Justice Learning Community at Columbia University. He and his family live in Boston.


Lizzy Cooper Davis

LIZZY COOPER DAVIS is an artist and scholar interested in how the arts can facilitate community conversation, resistance, and change. Particularly focused on black freedom movements, she has conducted research in Cuba, Brazil, and New Orleans, and her current project examines the cultural workers of the civil rights era. She has trained with Augusto and Julian Boal and used their methods in schools, community centers, and prisons. She is currently working at Jacob's Pillow in two capacities: First, as a core collaborator and documenter for "Pitsfield Moves!," a ten-month engagement project led by Angela's Pulse with local stakeholders within educational, social, and economic justice organization; And second, doing documentation and assessment for the Pillow's upcoming international summit on dance and social change.


Lizzy was the Facilitation Trainer for Anna Deavere Smith's "Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education" at the American Repertory Theater and a facilitator for the community engagement initiative for Claudia Rankine's play "The White Card" at ArtsEmerson. She also works as a consultant on black cultural history and arts- and values-based organizing with the Urban Bush Women and is a mentor for Live Arts Boston, a project of the Boston Foundation supporting Boston-area performing artists, presenters, and producers.

Lizzy has performed nationally as an actor in such theaters as Second Stage, The Public Theater, The Long Wharf, Berkeley Rep, and The American Repertory Theater and with such directors as Liesl Tommy, Anne Bogart, and Mary Zimmerman. She has also worked in television, film, and radio. Lizzy co-edited Enacting Pleasure: Artists and Scholars Respond to Carol Gilligan's Map of Love (2010), her work on the freedom songs of the civil rights movement appeared in the roots music journal No Depression, and she is contributing a chapter on the Free Southern Theater's Story Circle methodology for the forthcoming volume Discussing Democracy: A Primer on Dialogue and Deliberation in Higher Education (Stylus, 2019).