Motherhood, Cultural Celebrations, and Treasures in Darkness

One of the many facets of my life includes motherhood. Yes, I am the mom to a beautiful 13 year old daughter that has a parent who deals with serious mental illness. I also happen to be an African American mom raising a biracial child in 2017. As you can imagine, with all of these qualities there is never a dull moment when it comes to parenting! But I wouldn’t trade any of it. There is a richness to my life because of my daughter, and while we certainly have our moments, I am ever so grateful that the Lord blessed us with her. She has been a joy to raise!

When my daughter was little, I used to sing to her the song “You Are My Sunshine”. I meant every word of that song! Through the many challenges that we’ve faced as a family, and especially during the difficult times of my husband’s illness and absence, our daughter has been a bright spot in my life that has kept me going, and given me purpose and drive when at times I might rather have just given up. Because of her, I was able to keep going…to work, to school, etc. Making her life rich, in the midst of our difficulties, gave me focus.

One of the many things my daughter absolutely loves to do is dance. When she was really little, she took dance for several years. But with my husband’s illness and all the challenges and uncertainties that brought, it was very difficult for us to be able to continue giving her those opportunities. But during the season when my husband was gone, an opportunity presented itself to us that I just could not pass up…and I know it was God’s way of meeting us where we were at. I always marvel at the way God leads our steps, even in the midst of great trials, and meets us in the dark with treasures from His heart.

In early 2014, I took a teaching job at a performing arts academy that “just happened” to offer African dance and drumming as classes. From an early age, Jasmyne had a knack for rhythm, and I just KNEW that she would love learning how to play African drums, and then to dance on top of that? I had to sign her up. It worked out, because she could take the classes while I was teaching lessons, and even on my meager budget, I could make it work.

Kuumba Festival 2017

Kuumba Festival 2017

It “just so happened” that her dance and drum teachers were affiliated with an organization called African American Appalachian Arts (AAAA). Its purpose is to promote “positive social and community development by utilizing creative methods of education through cultural artistic programming and development.” One of the ways they fulfill this is through an annual festival that is unique to our area of Tennessee, called the Kuumba Festival. It is a 4 day festival that celebrates African and African-American culture through art, music, dance, food, and community engagement. It has been around for almost 30 years. The centerpiece of the festival is the Kuumba Watoto Drum and Dance Ensemble, made up of children from age 5 up to 18. They attend a camp for 3 weeks, learning authentic West African dance, drumming, culture, heritage, and history, self-discipline, and pride. During the festival, they present what they learned to the community.

Well…I could not pass up this amazing opportunity, so I signed my daughter right up, and she did not protest! It has been one of the highlights of our summers for the past 4 years. Not only that, but there have been other opportunities through the dance ensemble for Jasmyne to participate…even dancing for Ben Vereen, who played “Chicken George” in the 1970’s miniseries “Roots”!

Ben Vereen aka "Chicken George", Alex Haley Heritage Square May 2015.

Ben Vereen aka "Chicken George", Alex Haley Heritage Square May 2015.

Speaking of Chicken George…Part of the festival takes place in the vicinity of Alex Haley Heritage Square, under the watchful eye of a large bronze statue of Alex Haley, who, through his book and TV series “Roots”, brought an awareness of what our ancestors endured when they were forcibly brought here as slaves. That book means so much to me…I read it when I wasn’t too much older than my daughter is now, and I was captivated by the story, the history, and the grief of not knowing…Alex Haley filled in the gaps for so many African Americans whose history was stolen. His family’s story was ALL of our stories. I love attending Kuumba Festival every year because it gives me a sense of connection to something that was lost…and I’m so grateful to the visionary behind Kuumba who knew there was a need for this. Sadly, the founder of the Festival and AAAA passed away earlier this month, so this year’s festival was particularly special for the community.

But it is also special for us, for so many reasons. Having this outlet for my daughter was a gift the Lord gave us during a time of walking through some deep valleys. Her involvement with the Kuumba Festival has fulfilled not only her love of dancing, but it engages us in such a beautiful part of our rich cultural heritage and history. That is important to me as an African American woman, and I want it to be important to my child.  

It was hard on all of us when my husband was gone. He missed many years of my daughter’s life that he will never get back. My daughter didn’t have her Daddy to see her dance. But our Heavenly Father took care of us. He led our steps, and guided us to the right people who have brought so much enrichment to our lives.

Daddy's first Kuumba Festival 2016

Daddy's first Kuumba Festival 2016

And guess what!! God saw fit to bring her Daddy home, and now…he watches her dance.  Wow!! God is good!