A Maryland mom is on a mission to share the beauty and diversity of African culture with students across America.
Imagine stepping into a middle school classroom where students are learning about the rich history of Kente cloth with an opportunity to try it on or being taught dances like the Azonto and the One Legge, or the differences between the Igbo and Yoruba tribes, or even how to drink from a calabash.
Those are just a few of the amazing experiences students can have during an “African Storytelling Reimagined” lesson curated by Ada Ari, who has brought the program to schools around the country.
What started as a way for Ari to teach her children about their Nigerian heritage through classic folktales has become a full-fledged program that informs and inspires people of all backgrounds. “I grew up in Nigeria just immersed in the culture. But now I have children who were born here in America, and I wanted to share my culture and our background with them. It’s their heritage,” she tells ESSENCE.
Ari says she wanted her children, now four and six years old, to be exposed to as much of their culture as possible to educate and empower them to know who they are and where they came from. She also thought it was equally important for people of all backgrounds to learn about the history and culture of people of African descent.
The mom of two says these lessons on Black history are especially important now at a time in America where there have been many efforts to suppress it. “There’s so much tension in the air about what we are depicting and what we are telling, but history is history. There’s no need to necessarily be afraid of it; let’s learn from it and then move forward, rather than potentially lay the grounds to repeat the same mistakes in the future,” she says.
In early 2022, she published three books: The Spider’s Thin Legs, The Turtle’s Cracked Shell, and The Lion’s Promise. These beautifully-illustrated children’s picture books retell some of the most loved and well-known African folktales she grew up with in Nigeria.
Each book includes a geographical lesson about the region in Africa the story comes from. The books also come with fact cards to teach children about the specific African tribe from which the story originated. The popular books are available at major retailers such as Target, Walmart and Whole Foods.
“People are now beginning to really embrace that in addition to your Cinderella’s and your Beauty and the Beast, they’re all these amazing stories that are equally relatable that come from Africa,” Ari says.
“I really hope that this fun experience could help to start challenging people to rethink the way we see Africa, the way we think about Africa,” she says. “Teachers have told me they have students who have never spoken in their African accents or never talked about their culture, and since our session, they now do it with pride. For me, that’s it, that’s the real impact,” Ari says.