Kwanzaa Celebration in Oak Cliff, Dallas


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By Arielle Johnson

It was a frigid night in Dallas, the night of December 30th of 2017, as Brothers and Sisters from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex gathered at the Act of Change, Institute of Cultural Arts to special occasions – the birth and life of the Act of Change Founder, Esudele Fagbenro and the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, Nia, which means purpose. Attendees of the dual purpose celebration were treated to a spread of vegetarian dishes and birthday cake. Someone even took the time to prepare a bean pie to bring to the spread.

The celebration began when one of the male elders started praying to the spirit of Esudele Fagbenro. Moments later he solicited our direct participation by asking us to call out the names of our loved ones who have passed on and our ancestors. By doing so, we were being given an opportunity to show respect to the foundation they laid for us during their time on earth and meditate on our hopes for the future. Also, with the pouring of libations, we were inviting their spirits to join our gathering.

After the crowd received the blessings of their ancestors for the event, Dr. Pam Safisha Hill, the Director and Administrator of the Act of Change, Institute of Cultural Arts stood before the crowd and welcomed everyone to the Kwanzaa celebration. She asked everyone to prepare themselves for the treat they were about to witness which involved lip-syncing. What she didn’t tell the audience, was that they were about to witness a full-scaled production, which had to have been previously rehearsed, because it was flawless. And while she admitted the slight coolness in the air many of the guests felt, was due to the failure of the central heating system, she reminded us our melanin would keep us warm. Later on in the evening, those very words proved to be true as the room appeared to heat up as the night progressed. A majority of the crowd stayed from beginning to end.

The show was hosted by Safisha Hill, the daughter of Dr. Hill, who we later found out was also a very talented lip-syncer. But the very first act to dazzle us with their lip syncing abilities was a group that consisted of two girls and a guy, who mouthed the words to “Caroline” by Outkast. In reality, he was a much more slender version of Andre 3000, but his hair was absolutely on point with the gigantic afro wig he donned.

Often when we think of lip-syncing, we think of an individual doing their best to mouth the words to a song by making sure the inaudible expression of the words are delivered in a timely fashion. A person cannot lip sync if their delivery is not synchronized with the playback of the song. But what made this production extra special, was the performers took the time to study the artists whose songs they chose to use. They carried out this part of their performances so well that at times we thought we were in room with the actual recording artists.

But the showstopper of the evening, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was Chuck Berry. Larome Armstrong, the author of “The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Power of Black Music”, came out on the stage with his unplugged guitar and immediately captured the attention of the audience as Chuck Berry’s chart-topping song, “Maybelline,” played in the background. He danced around with that guitar as if he had a partner and even gave us a few splits. Mr. Armstrong must have studied Chuck Berry for a while, because he even stretched his eyes as wide as he could, in Chuck Berry fashion to put emphasis on some of his words. During his performance, the crowd laughed and hollered with delight. The only disappointment for the audience may have been that his performance appeared to be too short.

Another stellar performance came from Xae Mitchell. In a matter of minutes, he went from welcoming guests to the show at the entrance, to leaning on two women as he appeared to need assistance ascending the stairs on the way to the stage wearing a pair of black raybans. Wow…he transformed himself into Ray Charles and sat there and rocked back and forth as he sang. Every now and then, just like Ray used to do, he would throw his neck back and scratch the left of right side of his chest. And his back up singers…they gave just as good of a performance by falling on top of him as they alternated on the singing parts in the song, “Night and Day”.

For all the Aretha Franklin fans, there was Iyamode Fagbenro. She came out and commanded her R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Before she began her performance, she reminded us that Aretha Franklin had gone through a few weight transformations, but she was the bigger version. In her beautiful african attire, she got out there and lip-synced for us and even danced a little.

The Act of Change, Institute of Cultural Arts is located at 3200 S. Lancaster, Dallas, TX in Suite 623. It is located behind DD’s Discount store. Esudele Fagbenro, the Founder, was impacted by what he saw and heard at Farrakhan’s Million Man March. When he returned to Dallas from the gathering, he began to organize his vision of helping people of color reach their fullest potential.

Snippets of all of the performances mentioned in this article, will be available on the website in the coming week.