Celebrating black history in a diversity desert

Jesse Hollett
Posted 2/15/17

FLEMING ISLAND – When Nico and Lisa Warren moved from the Tampa to Fleming Island, they were surprised to learn the almost daily, cultural events they had become accustomed to in Tampa was nearly …

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Celebrating black history in a diversity desert

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – When Nico and Lisa Warren moved from the Tampa to Fleming Island, they were surprised to learn the almost daily, cultural events they had become accustomed to in Tampa was nearly nonexistent in Clay County.

Instead of waiting around for cultural enrichment to come to the community, the two artists decided they would bring it themselves.

Nico, a musician, and Lisa, a dancer, began the cultural literacy and semi-professional performing arts nonprofit Kreative Kids and Beyond to expose students to diversity.

“Cultural awareness and cultural literacy – we find that’s one of the most important aspects, because if we know each other and know of our backgrounds, then we’ll be more appreciative and we’ll be able to approach people differently and not have those stigmas about each other,” Lisa said.

The married couple has been practicing their craft for roughly 18 years. The two place a huge importance on the polyrhythmic, almost trance like music and dance of West Africa. Based out of the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy, the two teach not only the practice, but the history and importance of every dance and song, which become more important during Black History Month.

“When we were in the Tampa area, it was basically the busiest month for cultural dance companies where we basically had a performance three or four times a week,” Nico said. “Since we moved up here we’re slowly gaining contacts and slowly having performances.”

The group held a riveting performance Friday during a fashion show celebrating Black History Month and benefiting the at-risk youth program Clay PACE Center for Girls.

The group, made of an ethnically diverse cadre of children and young adults, played and danced to Kuku, a West African dance celebrating the harvest and successful fishing.

They didn’t headline the show, the models, clad in golden yellows, mangrove greens and pottery reds, were the features. This is a departure from their performances in Tampa, where audiences gravitated to see them.

“This is something very new to Clay County, and we’re new,” Lisa said.

However, another hurdle comes from the County’s demographics. In 2010, Tampa had over a quarter of its population identify as African American. This is nearly 10 points over the Florida 2015 average. Meanwhile, Clay County has only one out of every 10 person who identifies as African American in the 2010 Florida Census.

It doesn’t take a large minority community to celebrate Black History Month, however. Self-described hobby historian Eugene Francis of Orange Park said celebrating black history shouldn’t end in February.

“It’s not so much about Black History Month,” Francis said. “It’s about knowing your history. That’s who you are, that’s your pride, no different than anyone else. We should not be subjugated to saying we just celebrated one month, February, we celebrate 24/7, 365.”

Francis, who has a forthcoming book based on the history of Clay County from an African American perspective, tracked his great, great, great grandfather George Lycurgus from Liverpool, Great Britain, to St. Augustine, where he purchased Francis’ great, great, great grandmother Julia Gray from a slave auction.

“When you know who you are and who you are responsible to, or subject to for instance, a lot of the things that I do or won’t do is based on the expectations of my family,” Francis said. “When you know who you belong to and who you’re responsible to, it governs you. When you know the struggles, hardships, contributions, that those that came before you made, you carry yourself a little bit different. You understand you have a responsibility to those that came before you and especially those that come after you.”

Nico and Lisa offer free classes on the djembe and other African drums as well as cultural dance classes 6 p.m. on Mondays at the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy.

“We really just want to bring the community together,” Nico said. “There’s so much out there that’s dividing us I really think cultural literacy is just so important and would help to bring this culture together and people together to celebrate each other’s differences. I believe that’s one of our main missions and goals for Kreative Kids and Beyond, cultural literacy.”

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