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The Montgomery Advertiser Journal

The Montgomery Advertiser Journal Newspaper 

April 16, 2004

Section: D Edition: 01 Page: 01

Answering the call

Allison Griffin Montgomery Advertiser

Selma woman uses acting, dance in her unique ministry Properly reverent and ready for the spirit, the women -- some in their Sunday best, some in sweats, most with children -- greet one another with warm smiles and prepare for praise at the small church on Old Selma Road. After several praise tunes and a lengthy prayer to ask for the spirit to fill the room, they settle down to witness a unique ministry, a one-woman show that's part biblical drama, part entertainment showcase.

This is Ministering Monologues, created by Denise Dukes, a former teacher and actress who conceived the idea a couple of years ago as a way to fulfill the calling she felt from God. She knew she needed to heed the call, but didn't want to just preach -- she wanted to reach people with hero heed the call, but didn't want to just preach -- she wanted to reach people with her performing arts gifts. This afternoon's drama, called "Choices," lasts about an hour and is strictly a one-woman show. In this performance, Dukes portrays an 18-year-old girl who's had a rough life from an early age. Dukes tells the fictitious girl's story through emotional monologue, interpretive dance, a cappella song and even a baton twirling exercise.

The room becomes quiet. Dressed in a white bodysuit and flowing white skirt, she bursts into the sanctuary wearing a tousled wig and a fake fur coat, taking on the persona of "Rebecca," a fictional 18-year-old girl, who survives great tragedy -- gang members kill her parents and rape her -- but manages to rediscover her faith in God. The ending turns hopeful as Rebecca, hiding from her captors, sees them nabbed by the police -- good triumphing over evil.

Dukes concludes the charged performance with a short sermon -- "I hope you're blessed by this message" -- followed by a call for the children in the audience to come pray with her, and a final lengthy benediction, during which several of the women come to the front to pray and become "filled with the spirit." The drama, Dukes said, "speaks to all kinds of groups. We're all children of God." And children, she says smiling, are a motivation for her-- thus the prayer with them at the end of the story. "Our children are being tormented by the devil," she tells the audience. "We have to pray for them and nurture them." After two and a half hours of praise, performance and prayer, the women file out of the sanctuary, struck by the power of Dukes' monologue.

"Awesome!" said Ella McCall, a member of Sisters Strengthening Sisters, the group gathered for the afternoon's performance. McCall knew Dukes in high school in Montgomery -- Dukes went to Carver, and McCall went to Lanier. McCall hadn't seen her in years. "I had no idea God had called her into the ministry." "It was really powerful," said Cassandra Cash, a member of Golden Gate Ministries. "She is very anointed, trying to reach people for God." "It was wonderful," echoed Sheila McKnight. McKnight appreciated Dukes' nod to her roots -- "It's good to see someone from our area come back and share with us." And more praise. "Good performance," said Tonya Brooks, a member of Saints in Action, where the Sisters group has been meeting and the site of today's program. "She really ministers to people, especially to those who have no hope." After hugs from the women, Dukes takes a moment to breathe. "It takes me awhile to come down -- I'm on cloud nine."

Asked about the source for her emotional drama she replies, "God does it. Everywhere I go, people are drawn to what's happening. It's God doing his thing." Sitting in a small dressing room, she reveals a bit of her background. Born in Prichard, she's a product of the foster care system, for which she is thankful -- she was adopted by a loving family in Montgomery and given a solid foundation. She studied dance, acting and music while growing up, and was head majorette at Carver. She went on to Tennessee State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in speech communications and theater. She went to Los Angeles and became a featured dancer on the TV show "Soul Train," but she continued to study dance, modeling and acting. After her mother became ill, she returned to live in Montgomery. She won the title of Miss Black Alabama in 1986, which allowed her to campaign across the state for a favorite cause -- the adoption of special needs children. When her mother died, she traveled on to Atlanta, where she accepted more acting roles (including a spot on "In the Heat of the Night"), and met her future husband, Roger.

She spent 13 years in Atlanta, and while life with Roger was happy, she became increasingly disillusioned, particularly with her professional life -- she worked full-time as a customer service manager for a distribution company. She was searching for fulfillment and purpose. "I was restless and not happy," she said. "I thought, I've got to get out." Then -- to compound her personal struggles -- she and Roger were laid off within a month of each other. But as always, she found that God had a plan. "God had to get us in a place where we could be still and listen," she said. And listen she did -- and then, softly but surely, she heard God's call. She patiently waited to learn his plan for her, and nine months later, Ministering Monologues was born. Roger Dukes had no doubt about her calling. "This whole birth -- I told her, that's what God wants you to do." Her husband is an integral part of the ministry. He helps with bookings, transportation and keeping their children, Joshua, 8, and Jordan, who is almost 11, who accompany their parents to many of the performances. They sit patiently in the back of the room and gather the props after their mother finishes the monologue. And they know all the songs. As one of the boys packed a black duffel bag with the tousled wig and fake fur coat from the performance, their father smiled and said, "They love it." The family left Atlanta and moved to Selma about 2 years ago. "Selma was not a place we had thought about," Denise Dukes said, "but it's been a blessing, spiritually."

Denise quickly found a job as a teacher, and Roger has been working as a counselor with children. But she was able to quit teaching a few months ago, and now focuses on the ministry full-time. Roger Dukes hopes to be able to join her in a full-time effort. Now, Denise Dukes has expanded her focus to include teaching workshops. In a biblical dance and drama workshop, she teaches a small group -- no more than 30 -- how to take scripture to put together plays in a "fun and informative" format. "The biblical drama allows kids to learn the word of God without realizing it. It's fun, and they can relate to it," she said. She also teaches etiquette workshops for children. As word of the ministry spreads -- she was helped by an appearance on the Trinity Broadcast Network in March -- the couple are convinced they're doing the right thing. "For me, I just totally believe in what she's doing," Roger Dukes said. "She has my 100 percent support."



For more information on Denise Dukes and “CHOICES”, you may contact our offfice at: (334) 593-2313, or email

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"CHOICES" character, Rebecca is about to end it all...but what stops her?

Photo Credit: Montgomery Advertiser Journal