Knights Arts Challenge People's Choice: Delou Africa Works to Preserve African Heritage in South Florida

The Knight Arts Challenge South Florida 2015 People's Choice Awards nominees are live. The community can vote now through November 17 via text message for one of four selected Knight Arts Challenge finalists to receive $20,000 to fund their projects. It's a text-to-vote campaign: Choose your favorite group and text their code to 22333. Of the 73 finalists, the four People's Choice nominees are small, emerging groups from different parts of South Florida, all working to make the region a better place to live. 

From Little Havana to Little Haiti, cultural preservation is all around us in Miami, something that makes the city one of the richest in the nation. Maintaining those homeland connections — be they Cuban, Haitian, Colombian, or African — isn't easy. Despite the challenges, the cultural arts performing company Delou Africa Dance Ensemble (D.A.D.E.) has done just that: preserving African tradition in South Florida since 1987. In 2010, D.A.D.E. established Delou Africa Inc. to expand its reach and to provide children and adults the opportunity for expression, growth, and appreciation in a supportive and nurturing environment. 

"Delou," a Wolof word from Senegal, West Africa, meaning "back to" or "return to," fuels the nonprofit's mission: for participants to learn and experience African traditions through dance, drum, music, and history. Now, with the possibility of the Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award, Delou Africa hopes to take that education even further, from improving performance spaces to providing more scholarship opportunities.

Since 2010, Delou Africa has brought culture influenced by the African diaspora to the spotlight through various programs and events, many targeting the younger generation. Movements and Rhythms of Africa, an interactive program that introduces youths to the elements of traditional African dancing, drumming, and history; and Drumz Over Gunz, a character development program for young men to teach African drum, masquerade, and acrobatics as tools to build peace, communication, and collaboration between communities, are just two of the outreach initiatives that would benefit from the $20,000 People's Choice prize. 

"Our classes seek to enhance mental, physical, social, and geographical awareness while empowering individuals to embrace diversity through cultural and artistic expression," Delou Africa president Njeri Plato says. "We cultivate unity through the universal language of dance, drum, music, and folklore. African dance and music are life stories expressed through movements and rhythms. Delou is guided by the motto 'One Dance Many Movements, One Rhythm Many Beats, One Universe Many Cultures.'"

The organization's largest public event remains the annual African Diaspora Dance & Drum Festival of Florida, which showcases the artistic expression of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. In its seventh year, the festival features a children's village, symposiums, workshops, a health fair, a cultural marketplace, and a concert. If awarded the Knight People's Choice, Delou hopes to expand this heritage festival with additional days, additional venues that can accommodate music headliners, and fashions represented by the African diaspora in partnership with DanceAfrica, the nation's largest festival dedicated to African dance. 

In addition to expanding its festival, Delou hopes to increase rental space, provide scholarships so more youths can experience programs, acquire authentic instruments, and provide professional development for staff and volunteers geared toward organizational growth and improvement. The nonprofit also plans to share the wealth with at least three other local organizations.

"We have several organizations in mind," Plato says. "The organizations will be chosen based on their community service, similar mission to Delou, and their volunteer services to Delou... I am grateful for the recognition, and I am feeling a sense of validation that the work and services that we provide in our community are being recognized."

The Knights Arts Challenge winners will be announced November 30. Learn more about the competition at KnightFoundation.org and about Delou Africa Inc. at delouafrica.com.

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