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Celebrate Black History: Dancer Erika L. Aminata Mitchell

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West African rhythms through music and dance has had a huge influenced American culture. The 1500's was the beginning of slave labor as Africans were brought to the Americas as well as the Caribbean which infused hundreds of different african dance styles, from various ethnic groups that merged together. There has always been a great importance place on dance in the daily life of Africans in their homeland, many Africans that were enslaved continued to use dance as a way to keep their cultural traditions and connect with their home country. Continuing such traditions are dance instructors like Erika L. Aminata Mitchell who continue to be an asset to the community we caught up with her for an interview and here's what she had to say:

How did you get started in your career and/or Organization?

I started in my organization by observing the community and finding that some cultural needs weren't being met. Quite often in the area I lived in, people complained there was nothing to do in Buffalo. So, I used my creative gifts/talents to organize events that were geared towards culture, love, unity and offered opportunities for people to connect on both business and personal levels. All events are art based/inspired/themed. With a focus on supporting African - American businesses, visual/performance artists etc.

What were some of the cultural influences that made an impact on you?

Some of the cultural influences that made an impact on me are West Indian culture - Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, as well as Senegalese and Guinean culture. The history, food, dance and drum is a strong foundation of what my business represents.

How important is History to you and how has that shaped who you are today?

History is very important to me. It's remembering the struggle of our ancestors, especially being stripped of the drum and dance. Through this art form I am given the opportunity to share history through movement, song and the drum. The impact on my life has been tremendous! It's been my personal lifeline. However, you cannot imagine the effects it can have on your audience. A good friend of mine, Milissa of 13+ years always tell me how it was watching me perform W. African dance at University at Buffalo in the mid 90's that she saw 2 smiles, the one on my face and the one in my soul that brought her so much joy, hence, the beginning of her journey into the study of W. African Dance.

If you could go back in time as one person in Black History who would it be and why?

If I could go back in time as one person in Black History it'd be Betty Shabazz, wife of Civil Rights Leader Malcolm X. As a wife and mother during the times of the civil rights movement and having to endure the daily uncertainties, racial tension and assaults leading up to the assassination of her husband, what I recognized most about Betty is that she was a woman of unwavering faith, substance, strength, determination and tenacity. In spite of her circumstances, having lost her husband, no job/savings, raising 6 children yet determined to carry the torch and become Dr. Shabazz is nothing short of amazing. These are the characteristics that keep me motivated and encouraged as I deal with my own struggles related to racial injustice in the community/workplace, maintaining financial stability and keeps me focused on supporting and giving back to those in the struggle called 'survival'. She was and still is an amazing role model for African American Women.

As we look at the rich cultural history of Buffalo visually from the project how does it make you feel and what do you feel people should take from it?

The rich cultural history of Buffalo makes me feel proud to live in a city with such deep rooted and significant history. I think people should be less concerned with what's missing in Buffalo and look at what's to gain in terms of history, culture and such. It would make for a better living and giving experience and I believe more people would invest and remain to help continue to build on the cultural foundation which began hundreds of years ago. Most importantly, it's a direct link to live African/African -American history that children aren't getting in the school system.

Any project coming and where can people find your work,business and/or organization?

The project I'm working on currently is my annual art event, "Image & Identity V - Acknowledging Our Ethnic Roots' Art & Hair Exhibition.The vision for this event was birthed out of an African-American Male cosmetologist being denied an application to Artspace Buffalo Lofts, being told he was "not a real artist". I select a Black Owned Barber/Loctician/Stylist and feature them as artists in a Hair & Fashion show. In addition, Black owned businesses are selected to participate in an African Marketplace to showcase/sell their crafts/clothing etc. Visual and performance art is a huge part of this event. The goal: to bring together artists of all mediums under one roof for the purpose of networking, collaborating and supporting businesses you may not have come in contact with at any other event. Image & Identity V, will take place on Saturday February 8, 2014. 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm at Buffalo Arts Studio on 2495 Main St. Suite 500I also have a home-based business, "Aminata Creations", where I make hand crafted jewelry, Afro-Rasta Wear, African Dance garments/costumes, Spa Retreats, Ami Body Butter Shea Blends and Bath Salts, Weekly Dance classes and more.

I can be found on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aminata-Creations-Kafe-InterNational/229330797162217?ref=br_tf Email: AminataCreations@gmail.com

What footprint on History would you like to leave or open the doors too?

That the peace, unity, solidarity and creative expression was evident and received by those who experienced an Aminata Creations event. I want young people and even the 'mature' to not be bound by what society says creative expression is and to fully grasp the concept that life is art and is to be expressed in the way God gave it. Make your ancestors proud. One of my favorite quotes: Our life is a gift from God. What we do with it, is our gift to God.

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