Tag Archives: culture

Kúkátónón: Social Justice and Dance

7 Jan

Kukatonon 2015 Gala Save the Date 11_19.inddOver the past few years, one of my favorite regular events has been the Annual Gala of the Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe. This amazing organization, founded by the amazing Rolia Manyongai-Jones, blends heritage, social justice, health, and teamwork into a dazzling tapestry of motion and music.

The mission of Kúkátónón is “to inspire confidence, commitment and vitality among the children in the dance troupe; and to broaden awareness of African and African American cultural traditions throughout Oregon.” To these ends, the Troupe teaches children traditional dance and music, engaging them in cultural awareness. An awareness much appreciated by alumni and now present board member Lionel Clegg who reflects upon his time in the troupe: “there were no groups out there that celebrated African culture or taught us about our heritage.”

Currently, all of the troupe members are African, African American or multi-racial; all the dancers and most of the drummers are girls. Approximately 80% of the members are from low-income families. Kúkátónón is dedicated to addressing the needs of black youth in Portland and altering racial disparities through a holistic approach: dance, drumming, culture, art, and identity.

As an exciting, dynamic program, Kúkátónón also meets many needs of its participants. Afterschool programs are essential to keep kids safe, engage children in enriching activities, and give peace of mind to parents during the out-of-school hours. They also help improve students’ academic performance, school attendance, behavior and health, and support working families. More than fifteen years of research points to how youth who participate in after-school – and summer – programs demonstrate increased academic achievement, better school attendance, and have fewer disciplinary actions such as suspension and expulsion. Programs such as Kúkátónón also address improved social and emotional outcomes such as decreased depression and anxiety, reduction in risky behaviors, and improved health and wellness. I must confess, I so appreciate looking at Kúkátónón as a health equity venture. My hope is we will open larger discussions around racial disparities and health inequities and how we as a community can do more to support our youth of color.

Sixty-one percent of African-American parents say they would enroll their children if programs were available compared to 38 %of parents in general; 28% of African-American children have no adult supervision after school and are responsible for taking care of themselves during the afternoon hours. Kúkátónón fulfills a critical social justice mission in our community by helping meet these needs.

The need is especially acute for African-American girls. As noted in the Unlocking Opportunity Report,  these girls face significant barriers to educational attainment, including lack of access to quality educational opportunities; pervasive racial and gender stereotypes that affect the decision-making of school leaders and educators; discriminatory discipline practices that disproportionately push them out of school; high rates of exposure to sexual harassment and violence; juvenile justice system involvement; and lack of support for those who are pregnant or parenting while still in school. These systemic educational barriers and challenges produce life-long economic obstacles, such as limited job opportunities, lower earnings, and disproportionate representation among those in poverty. As a result, African American girls are uniquely vulnerable to a “School-to-Poverty Pathway.” By building skills in teamwork and collaboration while building self-esteem and confidence, Kúkátónón gives its students a stronger chance to overcome these obstacles.

The benefits of arts learning are both immediate and long-term. Students are engaged, animated, thinking and working together as they learn about art through art. Young people who are highly engaged in the arts are also more likely to thrive later on, earn higher grades, graduate from high school and college, volunteer, vote, and participate in politics at school and in their community. An investment in Kúkátónón’s arts learning program is an investment in the health and well-being of our children, and a unique cultural resource.

How can we help? I’m so glad you asked. It is really quite easy. Click here to donate and to look at Kúkátónón’s website. While you’re there,  don’t forget to buy your tickets now for this year’s Gala on Saturday, February 14.

Celebrating Ruth Bunzel

18 Apr

On this date in 1898, pioneering anthropologist Ruth Bunzel was born. Ruth Leah Bernheim was the youngest of four children in a German/Czech Jewish household in Manhattan. Ruth’s mother raised the children after their father died, relying on money from her family’s import business. They spoke English at home, but Ruth’s mother encouraged Ruth to study German at Barnard College. Ruth, however, changed her major because of the political atmosphere surrounding World War I and received a B.A. in European history from Barnard in 1918.

Bunzel wrote about the choices facing graduates of her day, observing that some went to Paris seeking freedom, some aligned with radical workers and sold the Daily Worker on street corners, and others sought “some answers to the ambiguities and contradictions of our age and the general enigma of human life.” She saw anthropology as a means to understand not only others but also ourselves. Having taken a course with noted anthropologist Franz Boas in college, Bunzel succeeded Esther Goldfrank as his secretary and editorial assistant at Columbia University in 1922. In 1924, she accompanied anthropologist Ruth Benedict to western New Mexico and east-central Arizona to study the Zuni people, and followed Boas’s suggestion to give up typing and begin her own research.

Critical of ethnographers who often ignored women as subjects in their fieldwork, Bunzel felt that “society consisted of more than old men with long memories.” She was drawn to the Zuni because women were the potters and had considerable societal power. Bunzel began graduate study in anthropology at Columbia University. In 1929, she received her Ph.D. with the publication of a landmark book on the artistic process, The Pueblo Potter. Rather than focusing on the objects of art, Bunzel was one of the first anthropologists to analyze artists’ feelings, their relationship to their work, and the process of creativity. To understand how artists work within the confines of traditional styles, Bunzel apprenticed herself to Zuni potters, and among them she became a respected, skilled potter.

Bunzel was a sensitive fieldworker, respecting local factionalism and esoteric ceremonies; her focus on the individual and the degree of aesthetic freedom an individual had in a given culture influenced her writing on Zuni kachina (ancestral spirit) cults and mythology, ceremonialism and religion, and poetry. She also contributed to the understanding of Zuni cosmology and social organization, values, language, culture, and personality. In addition to the Zuni, Bunzel wrote about the Hopi, Acoma, San Ildefonso, and San Felipe Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States.

Reflecting both her interest in culture and personality studies, she also wrote a comparative study on alcoholism in Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico, and in Chichicastenango. Her research, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship (1930–1932), looked at psychological factors that led to different patterns of drinking in the two communities. She also focused on the role alcohol played in the natives’ subjugation and how haciendas profited by keeping Indians in debt. Her study on alcoholism was the first anthropological writing on this subject.

Bunzel taught sporadically at Columbia University throughout the 1930s, but she became an adjunct professor in 1954 until her retirement in 1972. She then spent two years as a visiting professor at Bennington College. Bunzel earned a modest living teaching and felt she had never obtained full-time work because she was a woman. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she worked with other colleagues against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  She died in 1990 of cardiac arrest. Her detailed fieldwork and writing are known for their great sensitivity and quality and remain an enduring legacy of her anthropological accomplishment. Bunzel’s valuable research and papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives after their discovery in Colombia University’s archives in 2007.

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