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Kuumba Kids:
Culturally-based arts for urban youth

Kuumba Kids is the Arts Council's signature arts program for urban kids. Kuumba is pronounced "koo - oomba" and means "creativity" in Swahili.

Summary
History and Goals
Program Design
Community Artists
Impact
Donors to Kuumba Kids


Summary
Founded in 1995, the Kuumba Kids has since its beginning been a collaboration between Rochester's local arts agency, a neighborhood association, professional artists, and funders. The program integrates the performing and visual arts with the principles of Kwanzaa to build pride and reinforce values of at-risk youth between the ages of seven and fifteen. The participants show a statistically significant increase in positive interpersonal relations and self-esteem, and a reduction in negative attitudes toward school and in their sense of inadequacy.
The original goals of the program remain the same today:
(1) to use the arts to build constructive behavior patterns for at-risk African-American youth who live in Rochester's poorest neighborhoods
(2) to provide a vehicle for African-American artists to serve as role models and mentors
(3) to provide the Rochester community with concrete evidence that the arts can solve community problems.
In 2002, we can proudly say that we are successfully meeting all three of these goals.

History and Goals
In 1994, the Arts Council facilitated a cultural planning process for the greater Rochester community. The research demonstrated vividly that most community leaders, from both the public and private sectors, did not embrace the importance of the arts in community development initiatives. Public funding of the arts in Rochester had long been on a downward spiral, the status of arts in education was still dismal, and few if any arts/community development collaborations had seen the light of day. Those that had been initiated were short-lived.

A key goal of the community's Cultural Development Plan, announced in 1995, became "to build collaborations between the arts and community development." Inherent in this goal was the need to convince community leaders about the role that the arts could play in impacting issues such as youth development that traditionally were met only by social service agencies.

The Arts Council developed a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts. Conceived as "Artists in the Neighborhood," the program received a $40,000 start-up grant from the Endowment in early 1995. The Arts Council chose to work with the Southwest Area Neighborhood Association (SWAN), which had a strong record in initiating programs for young people. SWAN's area of service comprised census tracts 64 and 66, which have the following demographics: $14,000 median household income; 94 percent African-American residents; 26 percent of households headed by single mothers with children under 18 years. Over 97 percent of the children who live in the area live below the federal poverty level.

The Arts Council issued a request for proposals from local professional artists to design and implement a comprehensive curriculum using the arts to reach at-risk youth. A neighborhood team interviewed five groups of artists. The strongest proposal was submitted by a group headed by a theater artist, Delores Jackson Radney, and a dancer and choreographer, Clyde Morgan.

Radney and Morgan are accomplished African-American artists who proposed to base a performing arts curriculum around the principles of Kwanzaa. Their focus was kuumba, or creativity.

The program was formally launched in the fall of 1995 as an after-school opportunity for 40 children between the ages of seven and 15. The venue was a neighborhood school in southwest Rochester.
The actual name of the program evolved from "Artists in the Neighborhoods" to "Arts Build Character" to "Kids in Dance & Drama." Ultimately, the kids named themselves the Kuumba Kids.

Program Design
The Arts Council oversees the program, contracts with artists, manages communications and finances, coordinates evaluation, and raises all funds.

SWAN, the neighborhood association, provides direct links to the young people and their families. SWAN is responsible for recruitment of kids and community volunteers and site identification. It also provides referrals to an array of community resources for those children who need assistance with family or school problems.
Regular programming has been held since the fall of 1995 as follows:

School-year activities:

  • twice-weekly after-school workshops led by the lead artists and assisted by other local artists, with 35 to 40 youth (increasing to three times a week prior to performances)
  • original theater and dance performances for the neighborhood and school at the completion of each session
  • other community performances, by invitation, include Kwanzaa celebrations at the Memorial Art Gallery, the Mayor's Inaugural festivities, and many others
  • a video cast party for all participants to review their performance and enjoy seeing themselves
Summer activities:
  • month-long, full-day multidisciplinary arts day camp for 75 kids at a community venue (generally a church)
  • regular Friday field trips introduce the participants to the community's cultural assets, such as museums, as well as to the region's historic African-American sites, such as the Frederick Douglass gravesite in Rochester and the Harriet Tubman House (a site on the Underground Railroad) in Auburn, New York
  • the final day of camp is Family Day

All activities are tuition-free and open to all children. Most children have been in the seven to 11 year old age bracket. Although the majority (95 percent) are African-American, low-income children from Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian families also participate. Families and neighbors accompany the young people on field trips, help with costumes and refreshments at public performances, and participate in program evaluation.

The after-school program includes a transition time for snacks, homework, and visual art activity. The summer camp includes instruction in visual arts, including ceramics, mask-making and collage; snacks and lunch (virtually all of the participants qualify for free lunches).

The after-school program was based at public school #4 until the spring of 1999, when it transferred to a new southwest community center, managed by SWAN, at a new middle school several blocks away. The move has enabled us to more effectively target the 12 to15 year old age group.

Community Artists
The original lead artists, Delores Jackson Radney and Clyde Morgan, remain in place today. Both are experienced teaching artists and performers, well versed in the community. Their extensive network of artists of color allows them to bring in dozens of other local artists to supplement the Kuumba Kids' curriculum.

The Kuumba Kids learn West African and Afro-Brazilian dance, as well as African drumming. In drama, the curriculum includes voice and diction, character development, improvisation, theater games, and play readings.

The Kuumba Kids experience a holistic embracing of African-American culture. The dance, music, storytelling, crafts, literature and visual arts reflect the African Diaspora. The children integrate the language and culture into their families, neighborhoods and peer groups. One summer, a group of teen Kuumba Kids named their summer camp group Watoto Imani, "children of faith" in the Swahili language.

Each Kuumba Kids session culminates with an original performance of dance and drama, created by the kids in collaboration with the artists, with themes that build pride in African-American culture. Many are transformation stories. Productions directed by Radney and choreographed by Morgan have included:

Magistory: The lives of exemplary African-Americans come alive as portrayed by the Kuumba Kids. Characters include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Benjamin Banneker, Madame C. J. Walker, Nat Turner, and Carter G. Woodson.

Sundiata, the Lion King of Mali: Sundiata, an African king during the middle ages, rose from a disabled childhood to become a powerful leader. The Kuumba Kids performed on magnificent puppet horses made of burlap and fabric.

Kickin' it With Kings and Queens: Kuumba Kids portrayed kings and queens from African history through music, dance and theater. Characters include: Akhenaton and Nefertiti (Egypt); Hannibal (Carthage); and Nzinga (Angola).

The ABC Black History Rap, originally conceived by an artist in Buffalo, is the Kuumba Kids' "theme song."
Performances are regularly covered by local television and radio stations, and highlight the artistic excellence of the children's performances.

Impact
Because it was important for the Arts Council to demonstrate that the Kuumba Kids program had an impact on youth development, participatory evaluation has been an integral part of the program since its inception.

During the first three years, the Arts Council consulted with an evaluator from Rochester's Primary Mental Health Project to create appropriate evaluation tools. Participants and their parents completed pre and post self-administered surveys and interviews.
Parents reported the following changes in their children who participated in Kuumba Kids during 1995 -96:

  • 94 percent reported that their children demonstrated improved reading skills
  • 95 percent reported that their children were more imaginative
  • 79 percent reported that their children were more responsible

For the last two years, the Arts Council has worked closely with a team of evaluators headed by Dr. Michael Mason of the University of Rochester. The evaluation methodology includes self-reported measures, parental reports, teacher reports, and direct observation by the evaluating team. Comparative statistics on Kuumba Kids and non-Kuumba Kids from the same environment are compiled.

The Kuumba Kids demonstrate increases in self-esteem, interpersonal relations, adaptability, and leadership competencies over comparison groups. (Adaptability assesses the ability to adjust to changes in routine and new teachers, to shift from one task to another, and to share toys or possessions with other children. Leadership assesses behaviors associated with school and community.) The increase in the self-esteem of girls is statistically significant. Parents or guardians participating in the evaluation observed a reduction in attention problems of their children, and an increase in perceived adaptability, social skills, and leadership. Third grade teachers observed that the Kuumba Kids had lower social withdrawal, lower attention problems, higher adaptability, higher social skills and higher leadership scores as contrasted with the comparison children.

These findings support earlier data for the program. The noted behavioral changes are all markers of success for these at-risk children as they move through school.

Donors to Kuumba Kids
Without the financial support of a diverse group of local, state and national funders, the Kuumba Kids program would not be able to make a difference in the lives of kids.

Donors to current program:
  • Democrat and Chronicle/ Gannett Foundation
  • M&T Bank
  • United Way of Greater Rochester

Earlier donors:

  • Bausch & Lomb
  • Chemical Bank
  • Chase Manhattan Bank
  • City of Rochester
  • Cornyn Foundation
  • First Federal
  • Frontier
  • Gannett Foundation
  • May Department Stores
  • Monore County
  • Rochester Area Community Foundation
  • Rochester Community Savings Bank
  • Ronald McDonald House
  • Vox Futuris
  • Wegmans
  • Willmott Foundation
  • Wilson Foundation
     
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