Dance Instructor, Amari Grant with Baltimore 'Angels of Praise' dancers
The '200 Years of Returns' celebration in partnership with Colonial Williamsburg took place this weekend on Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 marking 200 years since the first Black Americans settled in Liberia through the American Colonization Society. A project inspired by Black merchant Paul Cuffee’s repatriation journey to Sierra Leone in 1815 and catalyzed by New Jersey’s Robert Finley in 1822 that would result in what is arguably the earliest historical site of Black American liberation. “200 Years of Returns” is a collaboration between Burning Barriers Building Bridges (more commonly known as B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia) and the Museum Theatre Department of Colonial Williamsburg (CW) in Virginia, United States. This interactive performance juxtaposes past and present "returns" to Liberia since 1822 when Black American settlers first arrived encountering various African ethnic groups.
A team of five actors from B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia shared the stage with actors from CW Virginia at Hennage Auditorium in theColonial Williamsburg Arts Museum to commemorate the “200 Years of Returns” anniversary (Learn more about '200 Years of Returns.'). As a continuation of '200 Years of Returns,' B4 invites you to learn about the creative process behind the choreography featuring Baltimore dancers Amari Grant and the Angels of Praise.
Amari Grant (Principal Dancer and Instructor)
Amari has been dancing her entire life. She began formal dance training at the age of five and has been passionate about the art ever since. Her experience includes performing hip-hop dance with the Boston Celtics NBA team as well as being a principal dancer in contemporary ballet. Through dance, she communicates with the world and expresses all her thoughts. Additionally, Amari performs liturgical dance. In this moment, she has the opportunity to "connect completely with God and dance for Him." In addition to being a very special part of her life, the dance ministry has made her a more confident performer.
Amari is a volunteer dance instructor with B4 Youth Theatre. She began her career with B4 Youth Theatre as an intern in the communications department. After informing Jasmine, the founder of B4 Youth, that she is also a dancer, Jasmine recommended that she speak with Elliott Jones, who is B4 Youth Theatre's graphic designer and choreographer. Since then, she has served as the dance instructor for B4 Youth Theatre.
The collaboration with Angels of Praise has been a joy for Amari. It has been fascinating to observe their growth at such a young age, especially since she is not a dance teacher by nature. She enjoys showing up for rehearsals and seeing them grow as a result. "As a teacher, I have found it interesting to plan and prepare rehearsals, stretches, and warm-up activities, to prepare dance choreography prior to rehearsals, and to exercise patience throughout the teaching process." As a result of working with them, she has learned patience and how to keep joy in the process.
Amari is truly honored to be a part of the '200 Years of Returns' experience. As she is excited to bring her passion and heart to narrate a story that many individuals are familiar with, and others have not heard before. Having the opportunity to celebrate such a monumental and life-changing event is a dream come true for Amari. Since Jasmine mentioned taking her to Liberia years ago, she feels that it is a blessing that this is coming to fruition.
Angels of Praise Dancers:
Angels of Praise is housed at the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore MD. A total of six dancers are involved in the "200 Years of Returns" performance. Below are a few reflections from some of the dancers.
Jeanette has been a liturgical dancer for about 12 years. As an eight-year-old, she participated in cheerleading and marching band (majorette style). Jeanette loves to contribute to the church and the dance ministry is the perfect way for her to do that.
Jeanette is delighted to be a part of the '200 Years of Returns' performance since she is teaching her community a part of history that she was unaware of before the performance. In addition, she is even more enthusiastic about performing on a larger platform than she is accustomed to. While the choreography was beyond their expectations, the learning experience has been remarkable.
She anticipates that her dance career will continue to grow as she is looking forward to the possibility of performing in Liberia, West Africa.
Jada has been dancing for three years. She joined the dance ministry because she enjoys dancing and wanted to learn a different dance form. Jada is excited for the opportunity to dance in Liberia, West Africa. Jada is the youngest dancer among the group, and sometimes rehearsals can be difficult for her to focus. However, she makes rehearsals worth her while by practicing at home so that she is even more prepared for the show. Jada's dedication to performing is something she takes great pride in, and performing in the '200 Years of Returns' show means even more to her as she has the opportunity to contribute to sharing history with others.
Shenika does not consider herself a dancer, even though she has been dancing for about five years. Initially, she did not seek to dance, but dance found her, and she takes great pleasure in doing it. Dance gives her confidence and a voice more powerful than regular speech. For her, dance represents freedom, expression, and family. It is a form of exercise and part of her self-care regimen.
Through the '200 Years of Returns' performance, she has been able to honor her ancestors and inform others about the movement without protesting. Shenika feels empowered by being able to share this story. This story highlights a piece of history that is not usually discussed or taught in schools. She is honored to be one of the people who tell the story.
See 200 Years of Returns at our Returns and Remembrance: Diaspora Homecoming on July 26 (Liberian Independence Day) at Bloomberg Hall on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Campus at 6 pm with special guest Colombian band Kombilesa Mi, co-hosted with African Diaspora Alliance. In partnership with Inheritance Baltimore: B4 Youth Theatre African Diaspora Alliance, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Johns Hopkins University Center for Africana Studies, Billie Holiday Center for Liberation Arts, Slavery & Justice Conference, Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship, Johns Hopkins University Museums. Come join us as we celebrate this historic event.
Kindly donate to support the B4YT Liberia team with the activities in the United States. Every member of the team is confident about the upcoming events. Each person is looking forward to the lessons and experience to share with their colleagues upon return to Liberia, West Africa.