Roots, Rhythm, and Diversity

Ward 7 pays tribute to local artists

A little girl with pigtails, blue jeans and a purple-striped shirt dances to the soft tunes of Sade. Unaware of people watching her, she continues to move as if she is performing a solo ballet routine. She spins kicks and twists as the music changes from one song to the next. Finally she sits next to her mother as the celebration begins.

In support of the arts and culture within the city, the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative recently hosted its fourth annual “Roots, Rhythm and Diversity” celebration at the Life Pieces to Masterpieces building on Hayes Street in Northeast D.C. The crowd ranged from toddlers to seniors.

Saleem Hyton, vice chairman of the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, poured libation as the people in attendance called out the names of their ancestors who made an impact in the world or in their community.

After libation the crowd stood and sung “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before blessing the food.

The program opened with two dance routines by Smothers Dance Ensemble, a song by Terrance Richburg, and a spoken word piece done by Life Pieces to Masterpieces. Life Pieces to Masterpieces is a youth development organization dedicated to elevating African American boys and men.

For many in the audience, the spoken word performance by Life Pieces to Masterpieces was their favorite part of the evening.

“I liked the show because it was in support of black history and my favorite part was when Life Pieces to Masterpieces did their performance,” said 11-year-old Dah-shea Robey.

Following the entertainment, a few sponsors of the event said a few words.

Erwin Royster, the director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., discussed how the AIDS epidemic is increasing, especially among African-American women. He said “it takes a village” of residents taking care of each other.

In recognition of their contributions to Ward 7, the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative presented Nguzo Saba awards to Lionel Thomas, Dorothy Douglas, and Melvin Deal. Thomas is the District’s former Commission of the Arts. Douglas is an active Ward 7 representative, and Deal is the founder of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers.

Nguzo Saba is Swahili for First Fruit. Kwanzaa or First Fruit represents the seven principles that enrich the Ward 7 community, explained Julia Jones, chairperson of the arts collaborative.

“We chose the people based on how they serve the community,” Jones said. “They have always worked to uplift and bring the arts to the community.” Yvette Alexander, council member for Ward 7, was the special guest of the evening.

“Culture is important because we need to know from where we came from to know where we are going,” Alexander said.

The show was a success and for many it expressed the importance of arts within the community.

Akili Brown is a Howard Alumni and a Pratt Institute graduate. His father is an active participant within the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative.

“I think art is extremely important. Every aspect of life is reflected by an artist or designer,” Brown said. I think that artists and designers are really important to the community and to life in general.”

Deborah Bernard collaborated with Jones for the event.

“It is important that our children know who they are and where they come from in realizing their full potential, Bernard said. “Art is reflexive of culture, one of the fullest expressions of culture.”

Since the celebration’s main objective was to emphasize the importance of the youth involvement in the arts and cultural awareness, Jones decided to end the program with the children taking pictures with Councilmember Alexander.