Unity Center Readies For BHM Performance
By Dianne Anderson
Black History Month events are winding down this last week of the month, but the fun is just getting started at the Akoma Unity Center in San Bernardino.
On Friday, February 23, the center hosts its quarterly Soul Food community dinner, which is always savory and always free. Students of the program, and local artists will perform, along with the Akoma youth dancers.
Representatives are coming out from the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario to bring gifts and giveaways.
Jennifer Xicara, the outreach specialist with Akoma Unity Center, said 150 are expected. They are required to RSVP for the first come, first serve event.
There, Akoma youth dancers will give a sampling performance of their upcoming Agua Caliente Clippers show. She said students are thrilled about their first Black History Month celebration performance, also featuring the Sesh Project by Makeda Kumasi, the director of the youth drum and dancers.
Local African drummers will perform at the Clippers opening and perform again at halftime. Tickets are selling for at a special low price for the community to attend to support the Clippers, and local youth scholars.
She said it is a big deal.
“Yes, it is. It’s actually their first time performing on this big platform,” she said. “They get a lot of practice throughout the week. They are in the park right now practicing on the basketball courts to help them prepare.”
Perhaps more importantly, Akoma Unity Center offers academic programming to help keep their grades up. Students hand in bi-weekly reports and the center tracks their grades. They have also formed relationships with local teachers and principals to connect around student behavior issues.
The upcoming event is sponsored by Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario and San Bernardino City Unified School District, which also supports the center’s year-round programming. Akoma plans to take 70 students to the event.
“We thrive off exposing the students to these types of opportunities in which they probably wouldn’t end up going to because of funds or transportation,” she said.
Each day, the center helps about 75 students, along with strong parent volunteerism. They also recently started a birthing and breastfeeding class for Women of Color, led by trained professionals and held on the first Saturday of each month.
Xicara said they are also excited to offer recreational activities, especially on the Westside, with programming extended to seniors through the adult fitness classes.
Every Saturday, Center instructor Makeda Kumasi heads up the free fitness class for adults from 10:00-11:20 a.m., as well as a free drum and contemporary jazz class for youth age 7-17 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
She feels that the Clippers event is another great opportunity for their youth scholars to get out and root for their local team, but also showcase their talents, along with her Umoja Ensemble of the Inland Empire.
Overall, Kumasi said the programs boost student self-esteem, which in turn helps their grades. The more they get out to perform, the more they come out of their shell.
“It gives them self-worth,” she said. “A lot of these youth may not have this type of opportunity because their parents are working or may not be able to take advantage of an after-school enrichment and arts program.”
The Sesh Project, her program at the center, teaches students about the ancient art and duties of the Kemetic Scribe, where they learn West African oral history techniques of the Grio. They learn to preserve their history and heritage, and to tell their own story.
Kumasi, who has been with the program for two years, said they are fortunate to have received a grant through the San Bernardino Fine Arts Commission that allows them to take the students on these types of excursions. They are also preparing to go on a field trip in April to see the nationally acclaimed Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.
For now, the students are jazzed about the upcoming Clippers performance, and everyone is excited to get Westside parents out to support their kids.
“We have seen the students come into their own, perform with confidence, and that does split off to their academic work,” she said. “This is a unique and a necessary program especially for our youth on the Westside of San Bernardino that may not otherwise have access to this type of enrichment.”
To find out more, see http://akomaunitycenter.org/events/soul-food/