A Black male wearing a button-up shirt smiles with his hands clasped while directing a project.
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Honors Alumnus Who Fights for Social Justice on the Stage

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Georgetown University honored Reginald L. Douglas (C’09), an alumnus and rising artistic leader in Washington, DC, who has worked to champion diverse voices and spur dialogue across communities through theater with the 2024 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award at the John F. Kennedy Center.

The Legacy of a Dream Award identifies emerging leaders who are working to solve key issues in Washington, DC. Georgetown established the award to reinforce its engagement within the city and recognize the award’s namesake, John Thompson Jr., the legendary Georgetown head basketball coach emeritus, social justice advocate and DC native.

Douglas, artistic director of the Mosaic Theater Company in DC, received the award as part of the 20th Let Freedom Ring Celebration, an annual public event hosted by Georgetown and the Kennedy Center that honors Dr. King’s life and legacy. 

This year’s celebration featured a performance by Jordin Sparks, a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and actress; Nolan Williams, Jr., music producer and composer; and Cécile McLorin Salvant, a composer, singer and visual artist.

An alumnus of Georgetown returns to campus on a winter day and looks up at Healy Hall with a smile on his face.

Douglas has dedicated his career to spotlighting new voices and directing plays and projects that help catalyze dialogue, community engagement and racial justice. Since joining the Mosaic in 2021, he’s sought to create an equitable, diverse and inclusive environment within his theater that extends outside its walls. 

In addition to directing and developing new work, he’s launched an intergenerational matinee program to connect high school students and seniors through storytelling, an artistic leadership fellowship program designed to give aspiring artists underrepresented in theater access and training, and a Reflection Series of community engagement events in which Mosaic partnered with DC institutions like the Library of Congress and Howard University to offer opportunities for deeper reflection on themes from its plays. 

“Through our John R. Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, we’re honored to recognize leaders in Washington, DC, who embody Coach Thompson’s commitment to equity, opportunity and racial justice,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said at the event. He recognized Douglas for his work “inspiring meaningful dialogue, civic engagement and social change through theater.” 

For Douglas, receiving the award is a full-circle moment. He sang in the choir at the Let Freedom Ring Celebration his sophomore year, and now, less than 20 years later, he walked on that same stage as an awardee. 

But it’s also meaningful for another reason: Georgetown was the training ground where he discovered theater could influence social change – a calling he’s carried forth from the Hilltop. 

“It feels very gratifying, very special to be recognized by your alma mater in this way,” he said. “I look at this award as a sign of encouragement to keep going, to keep believing that theater can be a tool for social change. That theater can be a place where people come together rather than fall apart. And to keep building Mosaic as a DC institution that is dedicated to telling our story and letting that message be heard be as wide and gorgeously diverse as possible.”

A Call to Politics and Performance

Douglas grew up interested in the performing arts. He sang in his church choir and went to theater camp. He liked being behind-the-scenes and directed his first play in third grade – a Winnie the Pooh puppet production. 

Theater was his passion, but upon attending Georgetown, he was set on a different career path.

“I wanted to be an educational lobbyist. I wanted to work on K Street, not Broadway,” he said. “I believed that every voice mattered and that no matter how old you were you could be on the front lines of making change.”

Majoring in government in the College of Arts & Sciences, Douglas was well on his way as a student. He interned for former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, then the minority leader of the house, and at an educational lobbying firm. He was taught and mentored by Donna Brazile, a veteran political strategist. He spoke on congressional panels. But the experiences left him feeling hollow. He wanted something more connected to the people he hoped to impact.

A Black alumnus of Georgetown points to a picture of him performing in a play during his undergraduate years that's posted in a theater on-campus.
Douglas recently visited Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center, where a photo of him as a junior in the play, “Stuff Happens,” still hangs.

Enter stage left Professor Derek Goldman’s “Making Political Theater” course, a class that helps students identify their political convictions and funnel them into artistic forms.

“That changed everything,” Douglas said. “I realized I could combine my lifelong love of the arts and theater with my love for civic engagement and government and politics. The blending of those two was the great spark for me. My work as an artist could be directly tied to advocacy or to activism, and I’m so grateful because now that’s what I get to do for a life.”

“I think one of the greatest gifts of doing theater and performance studies at Georgetown is that yes, you’re learning technique and acting and craft, but you’re also learning why it matters.”

Reginald Douglas (C’09)

Goldman, artistic and executive director of Georgetown’s Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics (The Lab) who served as Douglas’ thesis advisor, remembers the lightbulb moments – “it still makes me happy to think about,” he said. He continued to work with Douglas as he changed his major to Theater and Performing Arts and English and became a leader in the student performing arts community.

“I remember sitting in the theater with him during tech rehearsals for his thesis production, Marcus Gardley’s play And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, and watching him orchestrate that cast, and the love and the care and the vision he brought. Those things can’t really be taught. But he was discovering that he had that in him.”

The female board chair of a theater company stands with the company's artistic director.
Cathy Soloman (left), board chair of Mosaic, with Douglas (right). Photo by Chris Banks.

After graduating, Douglas went on to direct and produce more than 70 new and contemporary plays, musicals and multimedia projects. In 2020, he became the associate artistic director at Studio Theater in DC, helping to usher the company through COVID-19. In 2021, he was appointed artistic director of Mosaic, which produces theater that illuminates pressing societal issues and underrepresented voices and aims to create cross-cultural connections across DC. 

Cathy Soloman, board chair and president of Mosaic, led the nationwide search committee for Douglas’ role. She said they found exactly the right person for the job: an inspirational, inclusive leader who creates space for others to grow. 

“[The award] is a really positive sign that the sort of theater that Reg is doing at Mosaic in terms of shining a light on marginalized peoples, creating a space for collaboration and curiosity … is something that hopefully will be emulated,” she said. “I want more people to be touched by the stories that Reg is telling, and I believe that with his vision and his strong leadership skills that he’ll be able to do that.”

An Inflection Point

A Black male wearing a button-up shirt and beard smiles and clasps his hands in front of fellow actors and participants as he directs a project.
In December, Douglas welcomed participants to a new collaboration with Georgetown called “The Art of Care,” in which people across the political spectrum perform each other’s stories.

Douglas is helming Mosaic at what he calls an inflection point in the theater’s history. He’s worked to bring audiences back after the COVID-19 pandemic hit performing arts hard. And he’s heading into the company’s 10th anniversary year with a clear vision: to build up a local organization that thinks globally, centers diverse voices, and creates work that makes people think more deeply about justice. His work is also timely, he says, in creating connections across the aisle. 

“I believe that in the 90 minutes of that play, that ‘aha’ can happen and that’s our vision, that’s our hope, that’s our mandate,” he said. “The work we’re doing at Mosaic is to remind each other of our humanity. And that reminder, that thought doesn’t leave after the curtain comes down. It stays with you when you go to the voting box, when you go to the school board meeting, when you’re at the grocery store.”

Douglas is also focused on mentoring the next generation of artists and ensuring he’s not the only Black artist in the room. He’s expanded Mosaic’s apprentice program for early career theater artists and the theater now hosts a playwriting contest for aspiring high school playwrights across the DMV.

“I always like to joke that I bring five more chairs with me so that when I walk in the room, often as the first or the youngest or the only, I will not be the last,” he said. “It’s very personal to me, particularly when I look at young Black artists, to know that my legacy can be that the door is open wider than it was when I walked in.”

A group of staff members from the Mosaic Theater stand together with Georgetown's president and former basketball coach John Thompson Jr.'s daughter, Tiffany Thompson, in front of a purple background.
Douglas and the Mosaic staff with Georgetown President John J. DeGioia (center) and Tiffany Thompson, daughter of John Thompson Jr. (fourth from the left), before the award ceremony. Photo by Chris Banks.

Douglas is also continuing to work closely with Georgetown. In 2021, he returned to the Performing Arts Department as an adjunct lecturer. And in 2023, he began a new collaboration with his former professor, Derek Goldman, the Lab and other Georgetown groups called The Act of Care, in which people across the political spectrum perform each other’s stories. The production will premiere this fall.

Douglas said he’s glad that Georgetown remains a home for him. And that the Legacy of a Dream Award cements his connection. 

“The performing arts have had a really rough past few years, but this moment of recognition, it’s a real buoy to know that in spite of those challenges, we are still here and we’re thriving and we’re hopeful about all that’s yet to come,” he said. “To be able to do that with the support and the confidence of the university, it really puts some wind in our sails. I can’t wait to keep deepening our relationship with Georgetown and leading the theater community in this collaboration.”

Legacy of a Dream Celebration

Douglas’ award was part of an annual event first hosted by Georgetown and the Kennedy Center that honors Dr. King through a musical tribute. 

“To honor his legacy, we hosted our first concert at the Kennedy Center in 2003, and every year since, we’ve come back to this stage to remember and reaffirm our commitment to Dr. King’s urgent work — work that remains unfinished,” DeGioia said at the event.

Nolan Williams, Jr., the program’s long-time musical director, opened the event with the world premiere of his civic anthem, “Rise Up and Fight.” He composed the work to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 historic voter drive to register Black voters in Mississippi. During an election year, Williams said the song encourages civic engagement: “We need everyone engaged. That’s the spirit of this opening piece.”

A singer stands on the stage of the Kennedy Center belting out a song and holding out one arm. She's dressed in a blue dress and holds a microphone.
Jordin Sparks, a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and actress, performs at the Let Freedom Ring Celebration on Jan. 15. Photo by Elman Studio.

The event also featured an invocation from Georgetown senior Cynthia Rodriguez (B’24) and performances from composer and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and Grammy-nominated singer songwriter Jordin Sparks. 

Sparks closed the night with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” joined on stage by Williams, the Let Freedom Ring Band and the NEWorks Choir. Before the closing, the event’s emcee Anna Deavere Smith invited the audience to take Dr. King’s words to heart. 

“More than six decades ago … Martin Luther King struck a match and lit a candle to illuminate the possibility that we right here tonight could make his dream of a just world come true,” Smith, a writer and actress, said. “It was not a promise. It was not a guarantee. It was an invitation. It’s up to us to magnify the flame and shine the light even as we proceed with our smallest daily tasks. 

‘As Dr. King repeated often on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, ‘Now is the time.’”

Watch the full performance here. This story’s featured photo is by Chris Banks.