Sunday, July 23, 2000

Madisonville woman fulfilling life, dream in Up With People

By Christine Oliva
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tekeela McCaskill has done it all — culinary arts, neuro-reflex, massage therapy, psychology, communications.

        Now the 20-something Madisonville woman is touring the world with the nonprofit leadership program Up With People. She has one of five lead roles in the musical “A Common Beat,” which brings together students ages 17 to 25, from more than 20 countries.

        Although Ms. McCaskill never formally studied theater, “this is really where my heart is,” she says. She plans to pursue it once she leaves the tour in December.

        For Ms. McCaskill, a member of New Life Temple in Madisonville, her success is a prophecy fulfilled. When she was 10, a friend from her church told her that the Lord would give her gifts and abilities that would open doors.

        “That is coming true to this day,” she says.

        Up With People is not a religious organization, but Ms. McCaskill says she wants to use her experience to “show the love of Christ” to people, regardless of race, color or creed.

        “God doesn't care if you're black or white,” she says. “He sees you for who you are.”

        That's what the show is about. Through song and dance — and aided by colorful costumes from around the globe — “A Common Beat” promotes cultural diversity and peace.

        “No matter where a person lives, the human standard is the same,” she says. “Everyone wants to be respected for who they are.”

        As the company moves from one place to the next, cast members live with host families (Ms. McCaskill will stay with about 90 before the year is out), participate in community service, and receive training in management and leadership.

        Five separate casts tour different parts of the world over an 11-month span. Ms. McCaskill's cast travels everywhere from New York to New Mexico to Canada with three vans, three buses, three cars, an 18-wheeler and a staff of about 20. They also will be making stops throughout Austrailia and Japan.

        “Everyone has to work together or we're in trouble,” she says. “We talk together, we laugh together, we cry together. We're all we have . . . family for a year.”

        Although not everyone speaks English coming into the tour, the participants teach each other. By this point, everyone is fluent, Ms. McCaskill says.

        “I never expected anything like this,” she says. “I never expected the quality of the performance to be what it is. I never expected all these cultures to get together. It gives you a different perspective on life, on people in general.”


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