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San Bernardino dance artist promotes African arts, culture – The Press-Enterprise

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By Greg Archer | Contributing Columnist
There’s no shortage of creativity for Makeda Kumasi. The San Bernardino dance artist’s work and collaborations are something to marvel and her passions fuel several projects and initiatives.
The Umoja Ensemble of the Inland Empire, for instance, is one significant group into which Kumasi funnels her talents. The group’s mission is to assist in restoring and regenerating the physical, psychological and spiritual health of the populations it serves. 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 also collaborates with others, particularly 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.

Makeda Kumasi and Joy Wilson dance during a Kwanzaa celebration at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. (Courtesy of Umoja Ensemble of the Inland Empire Archives)

Joy Wilson performs a Caribbean dance at a Kwanzaa celebration at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. (Courtesy of Umoja Ensemble of the Inland Empire Archives)

Joy Wilson, Monique Williams and Makeda Kumasi perform “Lift” at the Barbara and Art Culver Center for the Arts in Riverside. (Courtesy of William Jones Photography)

“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 said. “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.
Kumasi recently received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation and the California Creative Corps Fund, which provides grants to local, regional and statewide organizations in 58 counties for 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 help her bring another initiative to life: Dancing with the Leaders of the Inland Empire.
“That project focuses on community engagement and social justice,” Kumasi said. “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 said. “But also, as choreographers, we will create dances based on the dance styles that the community leaders, government officials highlighted.”
In between the video presentations, the group will 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.
Aside from Kumasi’s passion for West African dance instruction, her talents 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.
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. She’s also talking to San Bernardino Valley College about hosting San Bernardino workshops.
“So, we’re so excited about being able to engage the community in performance, in dance and in culture,” Kumasi said.
Information: makedakumasi.net
Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.
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