There’s no shortage of creativity for Makeda Kumasi. The San Bernardino dance artist’s work and collaborations are something to marvel at, in fact, and her passions fuel several stand-out projects and initiatives.
The Umoja Ensemble of the Inland Empire, for instance, is one significant group that Kumasi funnels her talents into. The group’s mission is to assist in restoring and regenerating the physical, psychological, and spiritual health of the populations served. This is primarily done through the preservation, practice, and presentation of African Arts. Think of it as a kind of Pan-African “art edutainment.”
Kumasi’s collaborations with others are exceptional too, particularly with Monique Williams and the artist’s Unity Dance Studio in Victorville, and longtime dance friend Joy Wilson, who has a Caribbean dance group called Caribbean Joy. She also teaches West African dance at UC Riverside.
Then there’s The Sesh Project, which strives to provide education and experiences in Pan African Arts and which Kumasi’s artistic verve has empowered.
“What I love most about teaching is the joy people get from dancing, from learning about culture, from doing something new, and seeing them express themselves, even if it’s something as simple as improvisational dance,” Kumasi says. “We just completed a project for return residents with another entity I work with.”
Another initiative, called “We The People” Cultural Consortium, made possible by a California Arts Grant, aims to, “increase community awareness, appreciation, and respect for diverse cultural artistic expressions,” among other things. The artist also received an Artist Apprentice Award in 2021 from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.
One must ask: Does Kumasi ever rest? From the looks of it, this creative artist is dedicated to “the work’ 24/7.
As such, Kumasi recently received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation and the Creative Corps Inland SoCal, which provides grants to local, regional, and statewide organizations in 58 counties to fund unemployed and underemployed artists. The money allows artists to create public awareness messages and projects in support of civic engagement and community participation in multiple priority areas, including pandemic recovery and environmental, civic and social engagement.
She said that the grant will assist with bringing another initiative to life: Dancing with the Leaders of the Inland Empire.
“That project focuses on community engagement and social justice,” Kumasi says. “Basically, looking at how dance engages us and allows us to focus on our differences as in culture. But also, how it brings us together. We look at the similarities and our appreciation in our dance practices and dance cultures.”
Kumasi and others intend to reach out to government and local leaders to engage in dance interviews with them.
“We will ask them about their cultural and current dance practices, and springboard that into creating a final production where we will highlight these videos in a multimedia capacity,” she added. “But also, as choreographers, we will create dances based on the dance styles that the community leaders and government officials highlighted.”
It’s an ambitious project all around. In between the video presentations, the group will also showcase its documentary interviews. Three workshops are also filtered into the mix, one in Victorville, one in San Bernardino, one in Riverside and those will be free and open to the public.
One thing to truly note is the passion behind Kumasi’s West African dance instruction. But her talents also have found their way to the written page.
Her book, “12 Days in Senegal: An Artist’s Journey,” chronicles the artist’s experience traveling through Senegal and the inspirations that sprang from the trek. And “I See Hip Hop Afrika,” is a vibrant family-friendly poetry picture book. Both books are available on Amazon.
Additionally, Kumasi has been in communications with Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino with the hope of utilizing some of its dance club students and having one of her collaborative showcases there.
“I’m also in communication with San Bernardino Valley College to host our San Bernardino workshops,” she added. “So, we’re so excited about being able to engage the community in performance, in dance, and culture.”
Learn more about Makeda Kumasi at makedakumasi.net.
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise November 2023.
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