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20 in Their 20s: Marla Louissaint

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A musical theater star connects computer science with community activism

From computer science to theater to nonprofit activism, Marla Louissaint is aiming to change the world and inspire others to do the same.

The award-winning actress and model, who uses both she and they pronouns, majored in computer science at Fordham College at Rose Hill, taking time away from their studies to perform on the national tour of the hit Broadway show Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in 2018.

Since graduating in 2021, her credits have included Showtime’s Flatbush Misdemeanors, and this fall, she’s performing as Fate on the North American tour of the Tony Award-winning musical Hadestown.

“Being a part of the Hadestown cast—after seven auditions for various roles—feels like magic and truly aligned,” Louissaint says. “When I watched the staged production in preparation for the last round of auditions in New York City, it became clear that this show, with its parallel world to ours, was destined for me as someone committed to the movement for our survival and building community, solidarity, and love.”

Creating a Community of Action

In 2020, Louissaint established Claim Our Space Now, a nonprofit that aims to “ritualize community care” and support urgent, consistent actions to “dismantle white supremacy and save Black lives.”

“That looks different for everybody,” they say, noting that “there are doctors that might not know that the way that they showed up to work is activism—whether they’re amplifying the voice of a patient or not.”

They say that the nonprofit’s efforts—including regular clothing drives called “Marsha’s Closet,” in honor of transgender pioneer and activist Marsha P. Johnson—can serve as a “resource that is accessible across different languages and generations.”

Louissaint’s passion for social justice was enhanced at Fordham, particularly through a class on affirmative action she took with Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of history, in fall 2020.

“It was happening in sync with everything happening in the world—with the racial reckoning post-George Floyd,” she says. “And so that very much impacted the work that I did with founding Claim Our Space Now, with Black liberation, and also making sure that we’re doing it equitably and sustainably as an all-volunteer organization.”

‘Moving the Family Forward’

A first-generation college graduate, Louissaint was born in Haiti and grew up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. She’s grateful to Fordham for giving her the opportunity to perform professionally while earning a degree in computer science.

“I’ve grappled with the combination between these two parts of my brain,” she says. “I come from a Haitian family, so the first generation is usually like, ‘So, doctor, engineer, or lawyer—which is it?’ And of course, I had my inclination in the arts before even coming in, so I was being tugged in two different directions. I have always kept that responsibility of moving the family forward and being the model immigrant child, and really amplifying my people from home.”

Louissaint says that their work with Claim Our Space allowed her to combine many of these interests and continue being a student beyond the classroom.

“It’s very much tied to the different parts of my brain—the computer science part, the arts, and also my attachment to Black liberation,” they said about the organization’s founding.

And through her role in Hadestown, Louissaint says that she aims to use the platform to continue to elevate Black and Indigenous voices and stories.

“I’m excited to tell this story alongside my own as a dreamer, mover, and shaker practicing liberation and resisting seeds of doubt,” she says, “as I step into my power to harness the future Black history alongside my peers.”

Read more “20 in Their 20s” profiles.

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