October 1, 2023

The Tony Award Goes To Roshunda Jones-Koumba

Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.

HOUSTON-Originally from Wharton, Texas, growing up, Roshunda Jones-Koumba had a “well-rounded childhood.” Her mother and father always supported her creative outlet, so she participated in many different organizations in school, particularly theater and band.

Her passion for teaching developed as a young child, and her aunt was a big inspiration in her life due to her career as an educator. “I always wanted to be a teacher like her.” Jones-Koumba would spend her summers in Longview, Texas where her mother was from and would visit her aunt, her grandmother, and all her cousins. At her aunt’s school, they had year-round schooling, and she would let Jones-Koumba help in the classroom, mentor, and tutor students.

Jones Koumba graduated from Wharton High School in 1999. After high school, she attended Prairie View A &M University. She originally wanted to major in English, but she couldn’t get away from theater. She then met theater professor Clarance Lee Turner at Prairie View. Reflecting on that time she mentioned how “he changed so many lives and has produced so many artists in the state of Texas and beyond.” During her first semester, she had a conversation with him, and he asked, “Why don’t you teach something that you absolutely love.” His words resonated with her, and she switched her major to theater with a minor in English. She then received her teaching certification right after she graduated from Prairie View A&M University.

When speaking about her love for theater, she discussed how inclusive theater is. “It can involve everyone, and it teaches you teamwork, help with self-esteem, and can help you understand people. When you understand people, you’re just better human beings.”

When it comes to teaching, she loves seeing students reach their fullest potential. “When a student comes in for the first day and they’re shy and may be to afraid to speak up, but by the end of the year, they have blossomed, and their confidence level grows, and they’ve learned so much about themselves and that’s what theater teaches you.” She further described theater as a self-study where you learn about yourself, grow, and then you can go out and tackle the world.

Her teaching career started at Eisenhower High School as a student teacher. Shortly after, she became a full-time teacher at Shotwell Middle School. She then taught at Shotwell Middle School for a year and then moved to G.W. Carver Magnet High School where she currently serves as the director of G.W. Carver Theatre. She has worked at G.W. Carver Magnet High School for 17 years and just completed her 18th year in education.

Recently, Jones-Koumba became the recipient of the 2022 Excellence in Theatre Education Award presented by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University. The Tony Awards were named in honor of the actress and producer Antoinette Perry and was “established in 1947 by the American Theatre Wing and are intended to recognize excellence in plays and musicals staged on Broadway.”

Jones-Koumba had no idea that she had been nominated for the award, let alone a finalist. When she found out, she had “an over sense of gratitude for what she does and was incredibly grateful. “I’m just thankful and honored. This is the highest award that you can get in the theater profession and its truly an honor.”

When people watch her work, she wants people to be entertained, enlightened, inspired, and in some cases, she wants people to be motivated to go out and make a change. She believes that a lot of times theater is about life, and how you can learn a lesson by watching something, so she likes for some shows to be a call of action for people to go out and do something.

As a Black woman in theater, it has not been an easy road for Jones-Koumba, or for just being a person of color. She mentioned, “Breaking into a profession that sometimes overlooks you is a challenge. I truly believe that representation is important. Even though it may be a challenge, I’m going to continue to keep pushing through because I want every environment that I work in to be diverse, inclusive, and I want to be an example to my students that anything is possible, and we all deserve to have a seat at the table.”

When she is not teaching at G.W. Carver Magnet High School, she’s a teaching artist for TUTS Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, the Ensemble Theatre, and works as an actor, director, and theatre consultant. She has done great work and has won numerous awards, which include the Stephen Schwartz Musical Theatre Teacher of the Year Award and the International Thespian Society Inspirational Theatre Educator of the Year Award. She was also inducted into the Texas Thespians Hall of Fame and received the inaugural Arts Educator of the Year from the TUTS Leading Ladies organization.

As the director of the Panther Players Troupe #6753, the troupe has been successful on the state and national level at the UIL One Act Play contest, Tommy Tune Awards, Texas Thespians State Festival, and International Thespian Festival. Jones-Koumba currently serves on the chapter board for Texas Thespians, UIL OAP Advisory Committee Chair Elect, board of directors for Texas Educational Theatre Association and president for the C. Lee Turner’s Black Theatre Educators’ Caucus. In addition, she was the director of the Litefooter youth program at the Plaza Theatre for eleven years where she was part of the board of directors for four. She also holds many directional credits.

Jones-Koumba obtained her B.A. in Theatre and a Master of Education in Administration from Prairie View A&M University. She has achieved so much thus far, and has made a lasting impact in education. When discussing legacy, Jones-Koumba wants to be remembered as “someone who was fiercely passionate about the youth and making a difference and being an advocate for people couldn’t advocate for themselves.” The Tony Awards will be held in New York City on June 12, 2022.

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