West African dance and drumming connects Oahu teacher with students

Black History Month

HONOLULU (KHON2) – Dr. Marcia Howard is a Waianae High School special education teacher, but her classrooms are like no other.

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Dr. Howard brings rhythm and culture into the learning environment to connect with her students.

“The students run on stage to dance, to drum, to really immerse themselves, because I don’t know if they will ever get a chance to see live African drummers if we don’t show them,” said Dr. Howard.

Since 2001, Dr. Howard has organized Black History Month activities for hundreds of Hawaii students.

“We get the question right around December, ‘Miss, are the drummers coming back? Are the dancers coming back?'”

From Kailua, Kalihi, Nanakuli and Waianae, Dr. Howard has introduced her classes to Sewa Fare, Oahu’s only West African dance and drum group.

“The drums, it kept the rhythm of the villages, it was used to call people to gather. It was used to pull people to come together for a ceremony and to get the kids to come and learn from the elders.”

Dr. Howard is one of the founding members of Sewa Fare. Since 2002, the group has grown from two members to dozens.

“We’ve been sharing West African culture, dance, history, music, chance rhythms, with students across the island. The importance of knowing Africans, where they came from, and what they contributed to, not just the United States, but other nations and practically the world. It’s very important to teach them that.”

Dr. Howard grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where she says the mecca of African dancing is. But, it wasn’t until she moved to Oahu 20 years ago that she learned the art of the dance.

“So like the ipu that they use in hula, we have something similar and we just put beads, colorful beads around it, to make the sounds as we play it.”

The Brooklyn native says her love for teaching comes from her parents. They have taught her the rich history of West African culture.

Dr. Howard hopes to carry their legacy on to her students for many more years to come.

“I don’t think my students will remember all of the lessons that I’ve taught them. But they’ll remember the experience of dancing, hearing the drum, moving their body, listening to the speakers, replicating the moves, that they will take with them forever.”

Anyone who is interested in becoming a member of Sewa Fare can click here or email Dr. Howard mdhoward.phd@gmail.com.

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