Last weekend was Seattle’s Festival Sundiata, a celebration of African American heritage, history, and culture. When I was 13, I performed at this festival with dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet School. We teamed up with dancers from Ewajo, which means “come and dance” in Nigeria’s Yoruban language. I was one of the youngest dancers and was paired with Zen from Ewajo, who was one of the oldest and most experienced. This picture was taken at our first rehearsal. I had never before done a dance lift of any type, and this one was upside down! But I had faith in Zen. I did exactly what he told me to do and I knew he wouldn’t drop me. As you can see, older students helped.
After the festival, we performed our routine for inner city elementary and middle schools where children came from families who couldn’t afford to attend most forms of live entertainment. It was a great experience. The audience cheered us on as though they thought we were making the final touchdown in the Super Bowl. At the end they gave us a standing ovation, and afterwards some of the children told me that they had never seen a live dance performance before. This was the inspiration for my philanthropy book tour benefitting children’s charities. As one reader wrote to me, “It’s amazing how our past shapes our future.”