ASL for both Storytelling activities provided by Sister Jamillah Hollman and Sister Rosalinda Estrada-Alvarez
iDream TV Productions providing Livestreaming each evening
Donna Kokumo Buie, (aka. Mama Koku), is a Master Storyteller and children’s writer. She is also an educator who has taught children at all age levels, from pre-school to high school.
Koku graduated with honors from North Carolina Central University, majoring in Theatre Arts with concentrations in Performance and Education. During her studies at NCCU, she received several awards from both the Education and Drama departments for outstanding achievements in scholarship, performance and service. Koku also holds a current CDA degree, (Child Development Associates).
As a writer, she has written and performed original stories for the Georgia International Convention Center, (grand opening ), The City of East Point’s 117 Anniversary, College Park’s Merchant’s Association 25th Anniversary, CARE International’s Day of the Girl, and special stories and presentations geared toward creatively teaching academics through performance to children.
Koku was the Official Teller for the National Black Arts Festival’s Children’s Educational Village for several years while hosted by the Woodruff Arts Center and Centennial Olympic Park. She was also a roster artist for Woodruff Arts Center’s Young Audiences, (later Arts for Learning). She’s performed not only at various Georgia venues but across the US.
Joshua Cheo Gillespie
Joshua Gillespie (Asè) has been brought up within the storytelling culture. Witnessing his grandparents the master Storytellers Vusumuzi and Nothando Zulu on and off the stage has sparked a flame in him to carry on the torch. He uses his artistic abilities – Digital Art, Music, Dance, Djembe Drumming & Oral expertise – to captivate audiences. Asè believes our stories are like seeds from the divine tree of life, helping to guide us and grow us into divine trees of our own. The goal of Joshua’s storytelling is to highlight “Current History” (history currently in the making) , Life Lessons , and to inspire his people and all people to aspire to be who they truly are in spite of the trials and tribulations that life throws at them.
Charlotte Blake Alston
Ms. Alston breathes life into traditional and contemporary stories from African and African-American oral and cultural traditions. Her solo performances are often enhanced with traditional instruments such as the djembe, mbira, shakere or the 21 stringed kora. Her repertoire is wide and programs are adapted to any grade level or age group.
Charlotte is a nationally acclaimed storyteller, narrator, instrumentalist, librettist and singer who performs in venues throughout North America and abroad.
She is the host of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s preschool concert series, “Sound All Around”. She has appeared as host and narrator on the orchestra’s school and family concerts since 1991. Ms. Alston has made multiple appearances in such venues as the Smithsonian Institution, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Storytelling Festival and the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference.
Her international appearances include performances or festival appearances in Accra, Ghana; Cape Town, South Africa; Beijing, China; Basel, Switzerland and the Cape Clear Island Storytelling Festival in Ireland.
You can view Ms. Alston doing a TEDx presentation: EHSOTI: Standing on Tradition/ Charlotte Blake Alston – TEDx Wilmington Salon!
Mitch Gran’Daddy June Bug Capel
Mitch Capel / “Gran’daddy Junebug” is a master storyteller, recording artist, published author and poet. He is mesmerizing as he brings stories to life, while plucking the string with just the touch the human heart craves. He has been described as a “word magician”, a “national treasure”, “unexpectedly powerful” and a “transformer of lives.” Mitch first began writing and performing skits at the age of 12 and has over 35 hours of stories stored to memory. He has been featured at numerous schools, libraries, museums and festivals since 1985 including DuSable in Chicago; The Kennedy Center in DC; The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN; the Smithsonian’s 2009 Folklife Festival on the National Mall and the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. He has been the Artist-In-Residence at the International Storytelling Center and has received accolades and awards from local, state and national organizations for his work with youth.
Elnora Leak Capel, (his grandmother) read to Mitch at the tender age of three from “The Life & Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar”(1872-1906) and the rhythm of the story was planted like a seed. The genius of Dunbar’s work coupled with the joy in his grandmother’s eyes and the passion of her delivery left an indelible impression in Mitch’s heart. Later, Mitch and his brothers were encouraged by their parents to memorize the works of great poets to recite at church and civic events. It wasn’t until Mitch finished college that Dunbar would re-enter his life. His father, Felton Capel, shared stories of his youth and “creek talk”(a term he used to describe the dialect of his hometown of Windblow, NC) and one day gave Mitch the same Dunbar book that had been used by his grandmother and the source of his family’s entertainment for generations. His father said, “If you love that ‘creek talk’ you’ll love this…”and he handed over the book. Mitch’s father was right…the next seven years he studied that book, examining every word, every nuance, every moral and every intention of the author.
After re-discovering “A Cabin Tale”, Mitch started reading the story poem to his kids every night and memorized it. He told a friend the story one day, was invited to tell it at a banquet where there were teachers in the audience, who subsequently invited him to their school. The seed that was planted over twenty-seven years earlier was being nourished and beginning to sprout. Using make-up and baggy clothes, he developed the older character “Gran’daddy Junebug” to deliver the words because he felt a young man (such as himself) wouldn’t be as convincing. The character is a tribute to his own grandfathers who passed when he was young, two elderly gentlemen he adopted to fill the void and a way to pay respect to the elders. The “blossoming” was evident when Mitch’s grandmother reached a point where her memory was failing her…he sat on her bed and started reciting “A Cabin Tale” at which point she started reciting with him…then laughed and said, “boy, you remembered that story!” Not only did he remember, he is now one of the most sought after storytellers in the world!
Dr Amina Blackwood Meeks
From the traditional to the contemporary, from workshops to performances, Dr. Meeks delivers confidently and bilingually in English and Jamaican. She has traveled with her special friends, Ananse, Miss Lady and Likkle Miss Jing Bang to storytelling festivals and a host of speaking engagements across the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and North America.
Dr. Meeks is called a storyteller’s storyteller, a special and rare talent. After a successful career as a journalist, she has devoted her life to restoring an old Jamaican tradition – storytelling. She remembers long, long ago before electricity, radio and television, parents would sit with their children at night time and tell them stories about their history and culture. Children heard stories about Ananse the spider, whose stories came all the way from Ghana where some of our fore parents came as slaves. Ananse was a hero and there were always stories within stories. Stories that were lots of fun and taught important things to children. Stories taught children things like good manners and behavior, why it’s important to be truthful at all times, how to be kind and loving to each other. The stories were very important for Africans in the Diaspora to know African traditions, culture and history. Important to share these stories because the captors/slaveholders wanted us to forget from whence we came and they prevented us from celebrating our roots.
As a custodian of the oral tradition, this highly acclaimed international storyteller has been featured in festivals in South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Mexico and across the Caribbean. She has been credited for having made a major contribution to the recent revival of storytelling in the Caribbean! Blackwood-Meeks is the holder of Cayman’s highest award for culture, the Gold Star of Cayman for her contribution to the development of storytelling in the Cayman Island. She is also the founder and Executive Director of Ananse Sound Splash, the annual storytelling festival/conference in Jamaica.
Len Cabral is an internationally acclaimed storyteller who has been enchanting audiences with his storytelling performances at schools, libraries, museums and festivals since 1976. A great grandson of a Cape Verdean whaler whose grandparents immigrated to America from the islands off the coast of West Africa. Len’s strong Cape Verdean ancestry comes alive in his exuberant retelling of African, Cape Verdean, and Caribbean folktales as well as original stories and tales from around the world. Len is a popular storyteller at theaters, schools and festivals throughout the United States and has performed at festivals in Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Holland and Canada. He is the recipient of the National Storytelling Network 2001 Circle of Excellence Oracle Award. The author of a children’s book for young readers and contributing to several folktale collections, Len also has five Cd’s and audio cassettes featuring a wide range of his favorite stories, several receiving NAPPA and Parents’ Choice awards. For teachers, librarians, caregivers and aspiring storytellers, “Len Cabral’s Storytelling Book,” published by Neal-Schuman, NY is an excellent resource on how to begin telling stories, filled with 22 stories from around the world with telling and teaching guides, storytelling games and an extensive bibliography.
Dylan Pritchett shares his folktales with thousands of children and adults throughout the country in more than 200 performances a year. Dylan is inspired by cultural folktales with a positive message that cross cultural boundaries. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage and bring joy to people of all ages, from all walks of life.
As the past president of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Dylan is dedicated to passing on the rich African oral tradition of storytelling. In addition to live performances, Dylan has provided narration and served as a performer and consultant for a number of historic broadcast documentaries, including the recent PBS program, “View from the Mountaintop,” the Thomas Jefferson biography.
Dylan is one of a handful of artists selected to participate in the John F. Kennedy Center’s Performing Arts Partners in Education touring program. He has been working with the Kennedy Center for many years, performing and leading workshops for teachers to teach them on how to use the power of storytelling in their classrooms.
In addition to working with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Consortium in Columbia, South Carolina, Dylan has created a five-week course that teaches middle school students how to write and present stories of women and children — black and white — who lived during the Civil War era. Students are led step-by-step through the creative process using primary and secondary documents from Dylan’s research in Kansas, Mississippi, and Kentucky. This sought-after course is a huge success in hundreds of schools across the country, as a vibrant, meaningful way to learn about our nation’s history.
Dr Rita Cox
Dr. Rita Cox became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1997 for her outstanding work in storytelling and literacy. She has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University.
She likes to share stories with preschoolers thru 12th graders; sharing stories to make you think, make you laugh and stories that might even scare you a little. These stories come from her own Caribbean oral tradition and other rich cultural traditions throughout the world!
Dr. Rita Cox is recognized as a “Canadian Icon” who is a librarian by profession, a renowned storyteller and admired as a leader in the community. Dr. Cox joined the Toronto Public Library as a children’s librarian n 1960. In 1972 she became the head of the Parksdale Branch and launched literacy programs and other initiatives that promoted multiculturalism throughout Toronto. During her tenure, in 1973, Dr. Cox pioneered the library’s Black Heritage and West Indian Resource Collection which in 1998 was renamed The Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection. The collection soon became one of the most comprehensive collection of its kind in Canada. It continues to be a source of pride in the community.
As an active member of the community, Dr. Cox established “Cumbayah”, a festival of Black heritage and storytelling. A number of her stories have been published, including her own children’s book entitled, How Trouble Made The Monkey Eat Pepper. She has entertained audiences world-wide! She has also maintained the Toronto Public Library’s storytelling legacy by training a whole new generation of storytellers. Many of these storytellers are current library staff. After her retirement from the Toronto Public Library in 1995, Dr. Cox was appointed a Citizen Court Judge by the government of Canada.
In 2008, Dr. Cox’s achievements and continuing contributions to the community were recognized by the naming of a park in her honor – The Rita Cox Park!
Dr. Cox was born in Trinidad. As a child growing up in Trinidad, Dr. Cox says telling stories was how the children entertained themselves, a natural part of their existence. In those days, the children were not glued to television sets. Their parents told them cautionary tales instead of scolding and that sort of thing. Whenever children ask her what her favorite story is, she replies, “Whatever story I happen to be telling at the time.” She has a large repertoire of stories; so many stories she loves and stories that say something to her!
The Black Storytellers Alliance would like to thank the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council for sponsoring the 31st Black Master Annual Festival, themed “Black Joy: Stories Celebrating Hope, Resilience & Love.”
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