African-American heritage honored

Annual celebration highlights cultural beginnings, cites traditional dance, art, history

By Ryan Geller, News Editor

Students and professors transformed the images that have been superimposed over those of African descent bringing pride and healing for today’s generations at the African Heritage Celebration that took place on Feb. 8 in the Knox Center.

“Differences are to be celebrated,” Ericka Greene said. “Each culture is important there is not a hierarchy of culture.” Greene, a long-time participant in the African Heritage Celebration, is the Welcome Services coordinator at Los Medanos College, but her home base is here at the Contra Costa College Bookstore.

“This event makes me proud. It makes me want to learn more, do more and improve who I am. Because of the contributions of African culture, I have been able to love myself more,” Greene said.

The Annual African Heritage celebration has been happening at CCC under the guidance professor of Africana/African-American studies Carolyn Hodge for 21 years.

After the opening introductions from Greene, CCC alumna LaCretia Robinson gave the event’s traditional tribute to the founder of African-American History Month Dr. Carter G. Woodsen.

Woodsen was the second African-American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard after W.E.B. Dubois, according to Robinson. He wrote and co-authored 21 books in his career. Robinson quoted Woodsen as saying, “We have a wonderful history behind us. If you are unable to give it straight to the world that you have this record, the world will say to you ‘you are not worthy to enjoy democracy or anything else’.”

History professor Manu Ampim is a co-organizer of the celebration, along with Hodge. They bring together a unique mix of talents from the CCC community. The totality of African history is important to both.

“We do not deny the experience here in America, but we cannot make that as if it’s the only experience. For us, there is no other way to truly understand the African experience,” Ampim said.

Along with the rich culture of incredible dances and complex rhythms, the celebration focused not only on Woodsen as a foundational historian, but also on the current day accomplishments of students here at CCC.

Robinson, who graduated from CCC in 2014, now holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Cal State-East Bay. She is now working on her master’s degree and she plans to return here to teach as a way to give back to her community. Giving back was a common theme among students who shared their experiences discovering the Africana/African American studies program at CCC.

Carrie Lee Walker spoke about the program and how it has inspired her. At the end of the spring term she plans to graduate with five degrees from CCC.

“I usually take anywhere from 19 to 21 units (each term),” she said. “When I first came here I lost my mother to colon cancer. This made me realize what I wanted and when you clearly see a goal, there is no stopping.”

Walker plans to transfer to Howard University in the fall where she will study political science and criminal justice and eventually become a civil rights attorney.

“There is a barrier in black communities when it comes to economics. Black people are often seen as shadows, I am among those voices that speak up and say that it’s OK to be African first and to shine light and debunk the bad image, especially for those of us that are cast out here in America.”

Elishes Cavness presented his story “Lost Tribe of Zion” through the graceful and articulated movements of CCC students modeling his latest designs.

“As an artisan activist, because ‘fashion designer’ is not quite what I do, it is my duty to convey a story that invokes the correct emotions or thoughts. Lost Tribe of Zion has been two years of personal research and examining of myself and where I stand within the unique culture of what it means to ‘me,’ to be black with a capital B,” Cavness said.

Cavness delved into the personal work that has been his inspiration as he described one of his pieces. “The front view is regal, the cape sleeves and print pants walking toward you, and you’re just amazed. But when you see the back you are blown away because now you see skin, melanated skin to be exact. This is what it was like learning about my history in the beginning, just learning and being amazed, then coming to realization that these people look like me. My mind was blown away.”

The music and dance performances were stunning in their technique, energy and inclusiveness. Sistah Iminah presented her show “The Goddess Experience,” which is a fusion of African, Caribbean and Oakland cultures. Her latest single, “Kilon Sele,” is available at

“It is essential to have a good basis in your culture. I grew up in a family with a rich cultural connection and it had a great effect on my self-esteem and my capacity to excel in life,” Iminah said.

Fua Dia Kongo, which is also a hybrid of different musical traditions from the African diaspora, shared powerful beats and brought audience members up to the stage to show off their moves at the close of the show.

The group has been performing at the African Heritage Celebration for 10 years. “We have a special relationship with Caroline Hodge. She continues to create an avenue to the CCC community,” said Kiazi Malonga, the lead drummer of Fua Dia Kongo.