pic Roots of Life
Through West African dance and drumming, Roots of Life Performing Arts Ensemble members teach about history and social justice.

For almost a decade, the Roots of Life Performing Arts Ensemble has delivered mesmerizing displays of entertainment and enlightenment. Under SCASD’s Learning Enrichment Program, students from elementary to high school come together to embrace West African dance and drumming and broaden horizons. For example, this spring’s performances, titled “A Dream Conceived in Truth Can Never Die,” chronicled the lives of African Americans who championed freedom. Students rehearse on Saturdays — sometimes with guest artists invited by the founder, Penn State professor of theatre/dance Kikora Franklin — for community shows that have included appearances at Penn State’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet. Franklin, an expert on West African, Mojah and hip-hop dance forms, and her co-director, gifted support/learning enrichment teacher Debra Daggs, began with an after-school series of workshops, out of which came a master class that evolved into the ensemble. They offer beginning workshops for younger students and performance rehearsals for more advanced dancers, the two levels linked by strands of African-American literature, poetry and history. “I believe that it is important for all students to understand they are a part of a multicultural society and there are many voices that contributed to making America what it is today,” Franklin said. “Learning about our shared history will allow us to continue to have empathy for one another and understand who we are as American people.” For many students, the ensemble also becomes a close-knit community that builds friendships while promoting historical awareness and social justice. “So we get to have a little family we see whenever we perform or practice,” eighth-grader Elaina Lang said.