Dance, drums, storytelling, and much more converge at African Soul International, a revered bi-coastal West African Dance Company that has been inspiring and educating locals in the region for decades.

Led by professional artists with more than 50 years of combined experience, the professional ensemble shares stories of cultural and historical relevance through the cultural arts—including such things as stilt walking and song—and has established a strong educational arm in the process. Along the way, it has performed at many universities and schools, and established ties to the entertainment industry.

“The arts are always engaging,” says Dr. Adama Jewel Jackson, Founder and Director of African Soul International. “We always say the drums get them [students] in, then we can teach them more about their culture. The drum is very attractive because of its power and the connection with music—a connection that for many of us was forcibly taken. And unfortunately, people have lost it because the power of the drums were illegal here. People could not congregate and play the drums because they were so unifying.”

To that end, connecting and building up cultural resilience remains a key goal for the nonprofit today.

We remind students of our ancestors of antiquity, which built everything from Sankoré University in Timbuktu to over 200 different pyramids in Sudan and in Egypt,” Jackson says. “It’s about that rich cultural history that many of us unfortunately are not connected to.”

Jackson and the creative community she built within African Soul International have long been champions for the arts but importantly, how the arts can strengthen one’s understanding of the power of their lineage. A bevy of educational programs, performances, and community-building filter into the mix within the organization, and Jackson’s passion for educating individuals about the power of their own, well, “soul,” is always key.

“We know that our children hear negative imagery regularly,” she says. “They hear conversations, songs, and read news articles that could give them the impression that they may not even need to have hope because maybe people who look like them aren’t successful, and maybe people who look like them don’t achieve. We need to combat that because it’s not true. We stand on a very rich legacy of success, resilience, and of positivity and impact.” 

Recently, African Soul International received a grant from the IE Black Equity Fund via Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF). Jackson says the grants fueled creative efforts for a unique cultural arts program the organization offered at Savant Preparatory School, a Black-owned charter school based in San Bernardino.

In fact, the technical assistance grant the organization received helped produce a performance during Black History Month.

It helped us to continue building our ability, to do more within San Bernardino, and to offer programming for families and youth,” Jackson says, noting the importance of informing students about the contributions African Americans have made to this country and the world at large.

“The grant was just another way to help us to have a more realistic and accurate view of ourselves as world citizens, and as contributors to the world,” she says. “We want to make sure that our children know that they come from a group of people who contributed to the world, who helped to shape the world, but who also left them the blueprint for how they can impact in their own generation.”

Looking ahead, Jackson’s vision for the organization includes reaching as many new students as possible. She is also keen on creating unique partnerships.

We’re always looking for people to sponsor the kids and support our organization,” she says. “A lot of our kids are low-income and inner-city young people whose parents may not have the disposable income to help them take classes and to travel. We like to take them to different dance conferences—just one, so they can get an experience of being on the road and being out of their immediate community, but also so that they can actually get to study for a master artist and people from different places in the world.

“That really expands their knowledge of the world and how they see themselves,” she adds. “When our students meet some of our professional artists from Senegal and they speak four or five different languages, it really helps, especially African American kids, to see themselves in the world very differently.”

Learn more about African Soul International at

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, May 2024

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