By Beth Wasson
Growing up, my son, Jacob Wasson, always looked out for the underserved and oppressed. Even at age three, he wanted to walk a picket line in front of Chuck E. Cheese because the restaurant did not have a dog in their lineup. Through the years, he took notice of other injustices and tried to stand up for what he believed in.
Jacob, now a junior at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, still stands up for what he believes in. As a member of the LGBT community himself, the news on the situation in Chechnya hit a nerve. When he heard about the genocide taking place, he knew he needed to do something.
That something became a fundraising campaign that reached across social media and culminated on Dec. 10, 2017 with a cabaret-style show Jacob directed featuring his fellow students.
Last spring, when news of the Chechen purge hit, Jacob began formulating his ideas. As school began in the fall, he began organizing those ideas and talking to friends. He wanted to raise funds that would go to the Russian LGBT network. And so, Jacob started a GoFundMe campaign calling it “Choose Your Family,” emphasizing that all LGBT persons and those that support them are family, no matter where in the world they come from.
With permission to use the Pinnacle Theatre, part of Point Park’s Conservatory for Performing Arts, the cabaret began to develop. In addition, the GoFundMe campaign began receiving donations and a t-shirt, designed by a friend, began selling online. All proceeds went to the fundraiser with Jacob bearing the brunt of the costs for putting it all together. Soon, 18 students found themselves cast in the show and several more signed up to help backstage.
Along the way, support came from large social media groups throwing their influence and wide followings behind the efforts. The Instagram LGBT History founder, Matthew Riemer, called on his 100,000 followers to promote the campaign as did Adam Eli, founder of the group Voices for Chechnya.
All this helped the original fundraising goal of $1,000 grow to $2,500 collected. Jacob noted that, “the majority of the donations were under $25,” with many coming from fellow college students who normally have nothing extra. This campaign took time as with planning and rehearsal squeezed in between full class loads and part-time jobs. But it proved the t-shirt’s saying as everyone came together like a family.
What will this semester hold for Jacob? Only time will tell. He’s taking acting and dancing classes as he nears his senior year as a musical theatre major. Plus, he must fit in a full rehearsal schedule for an upcoming performance in 42nd Street at Point Park and hopefully still work a few hours at his job. But that’s just training for what’s ahead as his plans include heading to New York after graduation.
For a young man still in college, his performance resume looks impressive. His first journey into writing and directing came in first grade with a show he called “Dad’s New Job.” Born and raised in Wichita, Jacob’s acting career includes several seasons with Music Theatre of Wichita both as a child performer and an adult member of the company. His dreams have always pointed toward New York and as his mom, I couldn’t be any prouder. Keep going strong, Jacob! l