Dover program celebrates African people, traditions

The Sankofa Dancers perform during a recent Kwanzaa celebration at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center in Dover. They will participate during many programs connected with the third annual Citywide Black History Celebration in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery(

DOVER — While the continent of Africa lies more than 8,000 miles from the United States, it offers an undeniably huge contribution to black culture that exists here today.

That’s why former State Rep. Don Blakey says it’s so important for African Americans to remember and celebrate the lineage of people and traditions that come from countries in Africa, particularly those millions who were dispersed from Western and Central Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean during the Transatlantic Slave Trades that took place from the 1500s to the 1800s.

The African Diaspora & The Drum, a free program that will take place on Friday and Saturday at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center on 39 S. West St. in Dover, will showcase the African people and their culture as part of the third annual Citywide Black History Celebration.

“It’s extremely important to honor the past basically because of the fact that the Transatlantic Slave Trades cut those people off from their roots,” Mr. Blakey said. “Only through the study of people who were involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and having visited those countries can we reconnect.

“If you look at the food that (African Americans) eat, the music that we play and the way that we move, there are still connections to the continent of Africa. We participate in a lot of those things and don’t even know that we’re doing that.”

The African Diaspora & The Drum is a program designed to acquaint the public, especially those of African ancestry, with their rich heritage using the arts as the primary mode of teaching.

This weekend’s program will feature four reenactors of the African Diaspora as well as musical performances by the Sankofa African Drummers and Dancers, the Sankofa Strings and the Sankofa Steel Drums. There will be three performances, including Friday at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.) and Saturday at noon (doors open at 11 a.m.) and 4 p.m. (doors open at 3 p.m.).

“What we’re trying to do is let people living in this area know, those who have migrated from those countries, that they are welcome,” Mr. Blakey said. “We and they share a lot of history and tragedy and happiness. Four of our reenactors will be impersonating transplants from Haiti, Ghana, Liberia and Jamaica. There are too many countries to cover them all.”

Former state Rep. Don Blakey says it’s important to honor the past and its people through programs like The African Diaspora & The Drum. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The countries of the Diaspora include Cape Verde, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Martinique, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, Tobago, Surinam, French New Orleans and many more.

“My actors will do a short representation of some important person from each of those countries, interspersed with activities from drummers and dancers from Sankofa,” said Mr. Blakey.

“Also, there will be a particular part of the performance that will show the need or the use of one single instrument as an instrument of celebration — spreading the news, funerals and the whole nine yards — and that would be the use of the drum (in the program’s title).”

He added that from Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean, South America to North America the drum has been the single most binding nugget of culture besides cuisine.

There is a dedicated group of eight to 10 young ladies and six drummers who comprise the Sankofa Drummers and Dancers.

Sankofa is one of Delaware’s most sought-after performing arts groups. They have more than 30 performances annually and have performed for such important events as the annual Martin Luther King National Holiday Program, the governor’s inauguration, the “Positively Dover” African American Festival and Princeton University’s International Graduation Ceremonies. The group also performs in public schools, libraries, parks, museums, churches and a variety of public venues.

Camille Combs, of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, attended the “Positively Dover” African American Festival last June and watched as two of her young daughters participated with the Sankofa Dancers.

“It’s awesome and wonderful,” Ms. Combs said. “It’s very important for those of us gathered here because we need to know our cultural background.

“I really love the dance, not just because my daughters are in it, but because it represents a very important part of culture for African Americans.”

Delaware State News/Marc Clery
“The Sankofa Drummers and Dancers are very dedicated. They might get a night off on New Year’s or Christmas, but it’s a labor of love. They show up for all of the practices and are very dedicated,” said Don Blakey. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The dancers perform in bright and traditional West African attire and perform a variety of different dances that showcase their talent and the West African form of ballet. The group of drummers that accompany the dancers are made up of young men who play djembes and other drum-like instruments.

“The drumming that will be done is hand drumming, there are no sticks involved,” said Mr. Blakey. “Mr. Reuben Salters (founder of the Inner City Cultural League and the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center in Dover) bought drums on a trip to Senegal about 10 years ago. We watched them make the drum with a hand ax and then they put the goat skins over them. He brought back a half dozen of those drums, which would cost a fortune if he bought them here.

“The Sankofa Drummers and Dancers are very dedicated. They might get a night off on New Year’s or Christmas, but it’s a labor of love. They show up for all of the practices and are very dedicated.”

The message that Mr. Blakey hopes to spread is that the African people and their culture are welcomed here in America. He said that America is far down the line when it comes to places involved with the African Diaspora.

“We think we are large in the removal of people from Africa, but we really are not,” he said. “Brazil is the largest when it comes to the recipients of Africans from the African continent. They were also spread throughout the Caribbean and much of South America.”

Mr. Blakey hopes to get members of the audience engaged during the program and have some people from the community come up and discuss their lives and answer a few basic questions.

He is looking forward to helping the public see how rich the African culture is. He is ready to help people embrace and celebrate it.

“We consider what we’re doing as a gift to the community, at no charge other than applause,” Mr. Blakey said.

Tickets for the shows at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center are free but required for admission as seating is limited.

Tickets can be ordered online at or can be picked up at the Delaware State News at 110 Galaxy Drive in Dover or at the Biggs Museum of American Art at 406 Federal St. in Dover.

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