Yesterday, I could count the number of Black stage managers I know on one hand – on two fingers, actually. Now, sadly, I only need one finger. Tayneshia Jefferson died very unexpectedly today, according to a friend, from a brain aneurysm. Less than two weeks ago, audience development consultant Rick Lester, founder of TRG Arts, was participating in a charity bicycling event when he too died suddenly and unexpectedly. I don’t know if Rick and Tayneshia had ever met. They may have, although Rick focused on audiences and Tayneshia on backstage operations. I am not endeavoring to eulogize either of them, a duty best left to those who knew them and loved them better than I. Instead, I write to implore you to value your relationships, because tomorrow they can end.
I knew Rick and Tayneshia only as professional acquaintances and primarily via interactions at conferences (Tayneshia at USITT, where she had recently been elected to the board of directors, and Rick at AAAE). I go to a lot of conferences, and meet a lot of people. Some of them are people I actually sit down and have a meal with, debate ideas with, exchange email addresses with. My reflection upon meeting both Rick and Tayneshia was similar: “this is an interesting smart person; my world is richer for having met them.” The loss of both in the same month has me thinking of other people who are “conference friends,” people we see only once a year to listen to and maybe have a drink with, and resolving to stay in closer contact with them. As I write this, many of my closest ASU colleagues are at the ATHE annual conference in Orlando. I hope they read this and take it to heart; that they not only connect with colleagues in Orlando, but value the relationships they build there enough to continue them between conferences. They are precious and one never knows when they will cease.