“Ago!” calls out choreographer Dr. Yaz of IWADDE, the Intergenerational Women’s African Dance and Drumming Ensemble.“Ame,” comes the resounding response from the audience of over 300 students and their families in the school gymnasium.
The performance at Willow Elementary School’s annual Ubuntu Night follows a bustling pot luck dinner in the cafeteria where shared dishes—ranging from fried plantains to Jewish noodle kugle to New Orleans jambalaya—represent the broad cultural heritage of school families.
Ubuntu is an African word meaning, “I am who I am because of who we are.” To celebrate similarities, culture, and diversity—and oppose intolerance together—the school held its first Ubuntu event last year with a pot luck and cultural performances.
This abundant celebration quickly became a cornerstone of the school’s calendar—but such after-school socializing among families wasn’t always the case. Despite having 37% percent non-white students and 22 different languages spoken by families at the school last year, that diversity wasn’t represented at the school’s events.
Now, Ubuntu Night is one of the best-attended, uplifting events of the year. “I would love to see this happening at more schools in our neighborhoods,” says principal Dr. Amy Gile. As students pour down from the bleachers to dance with IWADDE, clap along with the Bryant Webster school’s student mariachi ensemble, and drop their jaws at head-spinning moves by the Block 1750 breakdancing crew, it is clear this year’s mission of celebrating cultures is another success.
“Anybody can be a school,” says Ben Kellogg, director of Mariachi at Bryant Webster School,“but being involved and getting together is what makes it a community.”