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First Person

Being Harriet Tubman

Dorchester actress Jade Guerra, 27, re-creates the historical heroine for local schoolchildren.

By Nancy Heiser
February 20, 2011

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In preparing to portray Harriet Tubman, did you learn things about her you didn’t know?

Oh, lots. I did not know she had been a soldier. I learned she was very religious and that the Lord helped her through so many things. She believed if someone needed help, she was going to help if she could. And she had no fear; I’m sure she did, but it was so unimportant to what she had to do.

What’s it like playing a historical figure versus a fictional character?

When you are playing a fictional character, you are building from the director’s idea, the script, and your life experiences. For Harriet, there is so much on her, so you can build on what you know already.

This show was reintroduced this season by Chicago-based Historical Perspectives for Children, whose actors have performed in Boston for 15 years. How many performances have you done?

So far, I’ve probably done around 30 shows. This part of the year, when they are learning about the Underground Railroad [for Black History month], it gets much busier.

Are you alone onstage?

I am all by myself. At first, it made me feel incredibly nervous, but once I started doing the show, it became empowering.

What’s the most poignant question the students ask?

They want to know how she became a slave. I have to let them know she was born a slave.

What most inspires you about Tubman?

At the end of the show, Harriet says, “Some people can call me a hero, but I just wanted to help people.” She wanted everyone to have opportunities, for everyone to be free. And that’s something that will be important forever.

Why is it important to keep her memory alive?

It’s not just black history, it’s American history. You have to understand that people who are different from you have the same rights as you. It is always important for everyone to have their freedom.

Jade Guerra (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff) Jade Guerra performs for students at Lesley Ellis School, an independent elementary school in Arlington.