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A small committed group of artists gathered outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico in the spring of 2012 to participate in a pilot dialogue project at Camp Mabina, an annual music and dance camp that offers classes with artists from across Africa and the Diaspora.  Our goal was to create an equitable space for sustained and facilitated dialogue about race as it relates to African music and dance in the U.S.  Co-facilitating this pilot project were Creative Strategies for Change artists and educators Tara Vellinga and Rachael Sharp in collaboration with Camp Mabina Artistic Director, Rujeko Dumbutshena.

The group included equitable representation from African immigrants, African Americans, and white Americans.  Nine artists participated in the pilot dialogue session: Fara Tolno, Hari Har, Lucy Foma, Nia Harris, Noudjal Gamougoun, Ralph Klee, Shayla Dawn, Tendai Muparutsa, and Uzo Nwankpa, with documentation support from Dasha Chapman.

The work began in advance with the viewing of a series of video clips from Race: The Power of an Illusion, the reading of several short articles, and the completion of exercises related to identity and the history of racism and immigration in the U.S. Upon arriving together we established some basic practice principles and worked with the following four agreements from the Courageous Conversations About Race framework:

  • Stay Engaged
  • Experience Discomfort
  • Speak Your Truth
  • Expect and Accept Non-Closure

Our agenda shifted daily as we shaped it to reflect the interests of the group.  We cultivated a list of hopes (see photo) for our time together, crystallizing the groups’ critical engagement with the topic.   These hopes provide insight into the work that unfolded.

Together we built a collective understanding of the levels and types of racism and other systems of oppression.  In looking at how structural racism impacts the arts, access emerged as a nuanced and complex issue.  The team identified several obstacles that contribute to racialized disparities in access to arts of African and the Diaspora.  Informed by a participatory action research approach, the Mabina Dialogue Pilot Project was a meaningful, and much needed step in creating spaces for communication and organizing for racial justice within the milieu of African Music and Dance in the US.

We can see the benefits of our work in several ways: the initiation of dialogue across identities and groups, carrying over into our home communities; increased awareness of diverse experiences and the realities of structural oppression; inspiration for continued education and organizing; and we are beginning to build alliances.  As a group we learned a great deal about the strengths and limitations of our process and how it can be improved for Mabina 2013.  CSC is deeply grateful to Rujeko for supporting this work with all of the potential risks and rewards involved.  Find out more about Mabina Dialogue Project 2013: Arts for Action at




  1. My Dear Mabina Dance Dialogue Participants!
    I figured I should try and get some dialogue going on our work together so that we can, every so often, help each other understand some of the issues we confront in our love and passion for African music and dance and it’s community.

    I think that one of the things that we got to start to touch on and never got to delve into would be a great place to start. I will get personal right away so that we can get to the heart of matters. I remember one of the things that was said to me was how I am usually surrounded by an impenetrable wall of white women. I have been very conscious of this fact even in my life in Brooklyn and the class that I am currently teaching at Cumbe. My crew of CO and NM folks are so supportive in coming to class and I am not drawing interest from the African American community apart form my faithful Fela Queens. I am happy I am surrounded by great people and we are having a great time and I am spreading the Zimbabwe love in a community that is dominated by West African dance.

    All this is a microcosm of camp. African American participants of Camp Mabina that do not feel welcome or feel outside of that community that is dominated by white women and African men who do not give them the time of day. Is part of the issue just who you know and who is drawn to you. There is something to be said about having a camp that has gone on for a long time and had an established community of mainly white women and the feelings of resistance and ownership that come up from being a part of something for so long.

    As a leader I have become more conscious of this wall and that because I am mostly friends with and serving white women in this camp I am closing off or am closed off to potential friends and students who are African American. I am also aware that because it is a camp that is mostly composed of caucasians that many African American dancers and musicians would never even consider coming.

    Any thoughts about some of what I am putting out there. What do I do as a leader to change the face of camp and break the wall?


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