Kent Meridian students keeping African Heritage alive

The King County Library System (KCLS) Teen Voices program is helping Kent youth connect with their cultural identities through art and self-expression.

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As part of the program, students attending Kent Meridian High School are drawing upon the area’s diverse population and African heritage to produce Afro Culture Night – a music and dance showcase at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, June 21 at the Kent Senior Center (600 East Smith Street) – providing students (most of whom have cultural connections to African countries) an outlet for their creativity and expression while connecting with their cultural heritage and community.

One Kent Meridian High School student, Shalom, says of the program:

“Dance is something I love because it connects me to my culture.”

Another student, Dorcianne, who serves as the high school’s African Club choreographer uses her choreography skills to bring students together and express African culture for the greater community. She recently led a team in a dance presentation for the Kent International Festival, an annual event which celebrates the diverse cultures and talents found in her city.

“We are in a new country with another language and culture. It is important than young people keep this to give to their children – to know where we came from and to honor that,” added Dorcianne.

“The meaning (behind our cultural customs) gets lost over time, so our generation needs to keep it alive through dance, through self-expression,” Levei, another student participating in the Teen Voices program. “It helps us have something in common with everyone not just the one country we come from.”

The Teen Voices program is part of DREAM BIG: Anything is Possible – a youth empowerment campaign launched earlier this year by Russell Wilson and Ciara’s Why Not You Foundation, KCLS, KCLS Foundation and JPMorgan Chase. The multi-week spring program is offered to teens in Auburn, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Kent, Renton and Tukwila to motivate, empower, and prepare them to be tomorrow’s leaders with skills, tools, confidence, and mentors for future success.

“Teen Voices is a program platform for youth identity development, agency and self- expression. A positive identity is vital to youth finding success in life and is fed by affirming experiences, personal agency, deep connections to family and cultural roots – a sense of belonging to a community,” said Kent Library Teen Librarian Rebecca Hershey. “Cultural and artistic experiences are strong allies to youth growing the ability to succeed. This program will give participating teens the support and encouragement to try something challenging and find themselves in it.”

Drawing upon their own African heritage, the students are incorporating techniques correlating from several African traditional dances, as well as Afrobeat and hip-hop styles to express and affirm their identities creatively. In doing so, the students are hoping to inspire their Kent neighbors to celebrate the diverse cultures within their community.

The dance showcase is presented by the Kent Meridian High School African Club and will include dancers from the African Club, DTYD, Afro-Unique and a local Kenyan Group. In addition, there will be a dance contest and the floor will open for dancer demonstrations in the interval. Music will be provided by DJ Giresse Nguimbi.

Students and organizers hope to fill the Kent Senior Center to its maximum capacity of 200, allowing the community to experience the event for themselves. Attendees are invited to bring a flag to represent their cultural heritage.