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Students and tutors at the Church of the Covenant


Karamu House Caps Off Fall Semester of Saturday Tutoring

On November 20, 2004, actors, a dancer, and a musician from Karamu House led special workshops for everyone in the Saturday Tutoring Program. Karamu House is our nation's oldest African-American cultural arts center, and it is located here in Cleveland. Following a pizza lunch and a brief walking tour of University Circle, 60 children and their tutors gathered for the workshops to begin.

First, a young woman in a traditional African skirt taught the group several African dances in the activities room. Everyone danced enthusiastically, including the tutors! It was an important opportunity for everyone to learn about African traditions and heritage. The woman explained that when Africans were captured and brought to America as slaves, the slaves continued to do these dances here. She told the group that the slave traders wanted only intelligent, strong, beautiful and handsome Africans, and she reminded the students that they are like their ancestors—intelligent, strong, beautiful and handsome.

In the dining room, a gray-haired woman taught the students several games. For example, groups of four students stood back-to-back so they could not see each other. Their goal was to count to 20 by sounding off in a specified pattern. If they counted out of order or sounded off at the same time, they had to start over. The students needed to learn to work together to succeed at this game!

An actress asked the group to stand in a big circle, and she handed one student a yard of rust-colored fabric. She asked the student to step into the middle of the circle and use the fabric to make something. As the group passed the fabric around the circle, each person used it in a different way. The students made a scarf, a blouse, and a hat. Then a student pretended to be a matador and he moved the fabric like a cape! One of the tutors pretended to be a shoe shiner, and he used the fabric to polish a student's sneakers! Everyone realized that they could make lots of things out of the plain cloth if they just used their imaginations.

For their finale, the visitors from Karamu House performed an African-American folktale for the entire group in the dining room. The plot involved an actor and actress who were auditioning for the part of a storyteller. The man was dressed in a plain black shirt and plain black trousers. He stood straight and tall, and his presentation style was very dignified. The woman, on the other hand, wore a leather miniskirt, fishnet stockings, and she carried a leather shoulder bag that looked like an eagle. She spoke in rhymes and danced to a drummer's beat. They took turns telling the story about an eaglet that had hatched among a flock of chickens.

Throughout the "audition", some students sided with the serious actor, but most students liked the flamboyant actress. At the end of the skit, the actor and the actress each put on one feathery wing and linked arms. With their wings outstretched, they finished the folktale in unison, proclaiming how the eagle flew free and far beyond anyone's expectations.

It is our hope that Karamu House helped the students understand very important messages about respect, teamwork, and imagination that will help them fly, both academically and personally, as they continue to work with the volunteers in the tutoring program.

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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Cleveland, OH 44106