Rod Ambrose

Rod Ambrose is a poet, community activist, and artist that has been a part of the South Phoenix youth for several decades. He grew up in Chicago, and moved to South Phoenix as a young adult. Rod Ambrose worked side by side with South Mountain Community College at the South Phoenix Youth Center, where he directed and wrote many culturally impactful plays. His theatre allowed many South Mountain students, along with children in the community, to embrace their inner poet. He worked there for over 20 years and influenced an artistic change in the community. He advocates for racial justice in Arizona, as well as throughout the United States. Even going as far as being a part of ADACA (African Diaspora Advisory Council of Arizona) who’s function in the community is to celebrate African heritage. 

Rod Ambrose. ca. 2014.
Image linked from AZ Humanities Website:

Rod Ambrose was born in South Chicago and was raised by his mother and father until his mother passed away in 1963. During his small midwestern upbringing he remembers being sheltered and very focused on academics even before he started attending school. This could have been due to his mother who was a nurse at the time, later becoming a doctorate who encouraged her son to read, partake in the arts, and study a lot. This translated into him leaving his rundown public school and transferring to an integrated white ivy league high school,

Limbem Technical School ( “Early School” index). There he was apart of the first 20 negro students that were able to integrate the school. After a challenging time when his mother passed at age 16 he was tempted by the streets of Chicago, more specifically the gang, “Black Stone Rangers”; but during that same time found an outlet with theatre. Following his high school audition for the play of Julius Caesar, where he was reading for Marc Anthony, he remembers the instructor telling him that he was the best actor to audition, but unfortunately he would stick out like a sore thumb.

Future Video clip: (“Escape to theatre” index 7:04–12:45 (timestamp).

This was just the beginning of the struggle of discrimination that he would face for years to come. When he got into trouble with the streets of Chicago he was forced to leave for his safety and live with his family in South Phoenix. 

The culture shock that Rod experienced when transitioning from South Chicago to South Phoenix was something that he will never forget. Arriving on a train by way of Flagstaff, Ambrose compared South Phoenix to a little town compared to South Chicago, explaining how he felt like a city boy in a country field

Future video clip: (“Arriving in South Phoenix” index).

Although, one thing that was interchangeable was the demonstration for civil rights. Ambrose, being knowledgeable about racial injustice, actually went to the extent to say that while he was in Chicago “My childhood culminated with meeting Dr. King”

Future Video Clip: (“Impact of Martin Luther King” index). Bringing what he learned in Chicago to Phoenix was a beneficial factor for the community and their growth towards civil justice. 

Combining his love for art and passion for social justice, he helped a mentor, Helen Mason, develop a theatre for young black students while he was in college. This group later became known as the “Black Theatre Troupe” which is one of the most respected institutions in the country. 

Rod Ambrose not only fought against unwarranted minority confinement, but also is a patron for the culture revolution, who he says the upcoming generation will succeed in by showing empathy to racial awareness and respect to people no matter what color, size, or orientation.

NarratorRod Ambrose
Place of OriginChicago, Illinois
Place of ResidencePhoenix, Arizona
Years Active in South Phoenix1968-
OccupationActivist, Chairman of the South Mountain WORKS, Behavioral Health prevention Educator for the South Phoenix Youth Center
Recording DateOctober 15, 2019
LocationSouth Mountain Community Library
Recording DurationRecording #1: 1:15; Recording #2: 17:23
Interview Conducted By: Student Researcher: Hassana Cole
Story Written By: Student Researcher: Mia Stankiewicz
Interview Metadata