Former Beauty Queen Brings to Life the Timeless Teachings of Christ Using the Ancient Art of Puppetry
by Angela Callahan
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15
Former Miss Black World and NFL cheerleader Yolanda Sampson is fulfilling the great commission, to preach the gospel to all creatures, with creativity and flare. The soon-to-be-ordained Baptist minister preaches from an unlikely pulpit: a puppet stage.
Armed with a cast of original puppets, Sampson entertains kids with funny stories and hip music while teaching the ageless Christ-like virtues of truth and love. Using puppets to teach and communicate is not new. Story-tellers have been using puppets to tell moral tales and to teach religious precepts since around 500 BC. But Sampson’s natural charisma and infectious joy bring a fresh and exciting quality to her puppeteering that flows through to her loveable cast of hand puppets.
"Doing puppet shows has been a hobby for me since I was a kid," Sampson said. "After committing my life to Christ, I decided to use this gift to glorify God." Sampson celebrated the premiere release of her third major puppet video, Can You Handle It? on April 27, 2003, at the Takoma Park Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Now, Sampson plans to market the video to various Christian and secular retailers.
A native of Washington, D.C. and former Washington Redskins cheerleader, Sampson will receive a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., on June 14, 2003, and become an ordained minister on June 22, 2003. Her life has come full-circle. Sampson got her start with puppets, or "puppetainment" as she has coined it, at the age of 12 when she joined the puppet ministry at the Takoma Park Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Ollis Mozon.
"Working with puppets has always been such a delight," Sampson said. "I never knew God would make a way for me to parlay this hobby into a craft that I could use in my career."
After graduating from Howard University, Sampson formed her own company--PuppeTainment Productions--and took her puppets on tour, performing live shows at museums, festivals, schools, churches, and on television shows across the country and abroad, including The Harriet Tubman House and the Africaba Festival in London, England; The Madame C.J. Walker Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana; the Washington Convention Center; and Fox Morning News. She then secured a contract with Anheuser Busch to produce and perform the national tour of "The Great Kings & Queens of Africa Storytelling Puppet Show."
In 1995, Sampson took some time off from her puppet tours to compete in--and win--the Miss Black World Beauty and Modeling Pageant. "After being crowned Miss Black World 1995 and completing my year long tour, I decided to turn PuppeTainment Productions, Inc., from a performance troupe into a video production company," Sampson said.
That same year, the company released its first video titled, What Time Is It? – a self-esteem, anti-drug use video targeting children ages 6 to 10. The video was available for rent at selected Blockbuster Video Stores.
Having launched her first major video project, Sampson accepted a contract as the first national director of the College for Kids Program sponsored by Toys R Us and the National Political Congress of Black Women, Inc. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was among the first "professors" for the program. Sampson was responsible for developing the national curriculum for the program. Juggling the responsibilities of the directorship of "College for Kids" with the challenges of running her own business, Sampson decided to resign from the program after a very successful year and to release a new video. Nearly two years after the first video, PuppeTainment Productions released Tell It Like It Is, which premiered at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.
Suddenly, Sampson’s life took a new direction. "The Lord called me into ministry and I had to close the door on PuppeTainment Productions," Sampson said. Now nearly three years later, Sampson now has revived PuppeTainment Productions, but it has a new mission. "The company is now dedicated to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. My earlier videos were a reflection of who I was and what I stood for at the time,” Sampson said. “After accepting the call to ministry, I felt compelled to do a video with a definite focus on Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!" With the creation of PuppeTainment Productions, Sampson will continue to make a world of difference.
Angela Callahan is a free-lance writer and a field writer for American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C.