2024 Black History Month: An Elder's view

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Watch the virtual panel discussion | Feb 1 12:00-2:00 pm

On February 1, 2024, we honored a beautiful ancestor Mother Nathando Zulu in libation performed by Elder Gwen Ellis and hear a panel discussion with Local Elders: Dr. Mahmoud El Kati, Vusumuzi Zulu, Gwen Matthews, Charles Caldwell and Mari Harris who have made incredible contributions in the Artistic World as an African American educator, historian, author, storyteller, singer, performer and artist. From jazz to hip-hop, from poetry to painting, we heard about their greatest successes and challenges as African American creatives. Check out our panelists below. Don't miss out on this inspiring virtual discussion!

"An Elder's View" - Meet our Panel of Elders

Honoring Ancestor Zulu Libation Performed by "Big Momma" Gwen Ellis

Born and raised in the vibrant Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Gwen Ellis, affectionately known as "Big Momma," carries a legacy of creativity and community dedication. In the 1960s, her family's move to Maplewood, where she still resides today, marked the beginning of a new chapter, but her roots in Rondo remain a vital part of her story.

Gwen's life is deeply enriched by her family. Married for 48 years, she is a loving mother of five and grandmother of ten. Her educational background reflects her diverse interests, with a degree in child development, certifications in interior and floral design, and a crucial qualification as a Restorative Justice/Practices Circles Trainer.

Gwen's passion for nurturing young minds blossomed during her years as a homeschooling mother. This experience led her to become a sought-after Cultural Curriculum consultant and development instructor, sharing her knowledge and cultural wisdom with organizations like Boy Scouts, Jack and Jill, Girl Scouts, and Urban 4H clubs. She has also partnered with esteemed groups such as Chosen to Achieve, Network for the Development of Children of African Decent (NdCAD), African American Academy for Accelerated Learning (AAAL), Project Spirit/Freedom School, Emma Norton Services, Volunteer of America, and Empower To Be Me Leadership Institute.

For over two decades, Gwen has captivated the Twin Cities as a teaching artist. Her focus on visual arts goes beyond mere technique, igniting imaginations and fostering artistic expression in students of all ages. Gwen's unique approach seamlessly blends historical narratives with African and African American cultural perspectives, creating inspiring compositions that empower and transform. She firmly believes that "the seeds of The Creator are deposited within everyone to create," and her work embodies this philosophy, nurturing the artistic potential in each student she encounters. Co Create with Big Momma's Creative Cultural Art's by emailing: Bigmomma888@yahoo.com.


Ancestor Mother Nothando and Elder Vusumuzi Zulu

For over four decades, Ancestor Mother Nothando and Elder Vusumuzi Zulu have been stalwart proponents of Kujichagulia, the Swahili word meaning self-determination. The concept of African people defining themselves is at the heart of why they are community activists and Storytellers. They believe that the ability of a people to decide who they are, have been and will be is an awesome responsibility and power to wield.

AS 2023 recipients of the McKnight Foundation Culture Bearers Fellowship, they revel in the opportunity of transmitting the values of our African ancestors through story.

Both transplants from the south: Nothando from the sharecropping farms of Nat Turner’s County in Virginia and Vusi from the often-tumultuous city of St Louis, Missouri.

Nothando’s stories are filled with the strong human imagery of her rural – sometimes harsh, but always filled with familial love – upbringing. Nothando is a sharecropper’s daughter born in Franklin, VA. She’s the youngest and only surviving member of her six siblings in her family. While Vusi grew up in in the city where, as he often says, “we moved every time the rent was due – and we paid rent every two weeks!” Together they sought to capture and channel the energy of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements through the act of simply telling audiences who Black people really are.

Co-founding members of the Black Storytellers Alliance in Minnesota, they began producing the popular “Signifyin' & Testifyin'” three-day storytelling festival in 1991 after returning from the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS) festival and Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was such a moving experience for Vusi who had never before attended a NABS event that they knew they had to bring something like that back to inspire the people in Minnesota.

”Signifyin' and Testifyin’” has entertained, enthralled and educated tens of thousands of Minnesotans since its inception 31 years ago. Nothando and Vusi have brought Tellers from across the globe to weave the same storytelling magic. And whether it's Vusi's true-life experience in his story, “The Hog Rustlers”, or Nothando's powerful telling of “The Eagle”, festival participants and audiences continue coming back year after year to glean more nuggets of truth about our people through the art of oral storytelling. Their Storytelling brings forth the ethos in addition to the pathos of our people. They demonstrate the Joy of being Black. It’s who we are. In 2024, Black Story Tellers Alliance will launch the Nothando Zulu Storytelling Institute for the descendants of enslaved Africans in America. For more information: info@blackstorytellers.com website https://blackstorytellers.com/


Elder Dr. Mahmoud El Kati

Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati is a lecturer, author, and commentator on the African American experience. El-Kati is Professor Emeritus of History at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Professor El-Kati is the author of several books such as The Myth of Race/The Reality of Racism: Critical Essays. His current work includes being an instructor for the Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought, a monthly community forum held every 4th Friday of the month at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. Please join his Facebook page at Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati: Books, Events and Speaking Engagements to stay connected to him.


Mother Gwen Matthews

Gwen Matthews ~ is a very successful, skilled, and highly sought after singer, who has been called for years “The Girl with The Golden Voice”.

Gwen was recently inducted into the MN Music Hall of Fame April 2023 and is the First “Solo” African American Female Vocal Artist to hold this honor.

Gwen will also be inducted again this year April 2024 with Minnesota’s Own National Recording Rock Group, “CROW”.

Gwen is an extraordinary Vocalist, Producer, Songwriter, Poet, Vocal Arranger, Vocal Designer and Vocal Coach who has decades of the stage under her belt. She has performed nationally and internationally across the globe. She has recorded and sung with many great nationally known artists such as members of Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Minnesota’s own famed Rock Group Crow, Ronnie Laws, Holland Dozier Holland, Frank Wilson/ LA., Jerry Peters/LA and the late Skip Scarborough, Denis Colin/ France and so many others.

She’s has been a voice in many national commercials through the years mostly with Minneapolis jingle houses and producers like Dale Menten, Herb Pilhofer, Peter Johnson, Jeff Harrington, Reyn Guyer, Terry Easu. Gwen studied voice under Famed Vocal Trainer Instructor to the Stars, Mr. Seth Riggs from Los Angeles for many years during her 11-year stint in LA. A “fun” note is those Seth Riggs lessons were an unlimited gift to her from Stevie Wonder and she took advantage of that beautiful opportunity. She taught some of her first Vocal workshops in Paris, France and other cities in France, Germany, Finland in and around The Netherlands and in other countries throughout Europe. She later hosted workshops in various cities across the US.

Some of her major national clients for corporate businesses are Bandag Tire company, Allstate insurance Company, TARGET, Dayton’s, Pillsbury, General Mills, Radisson Hotels and Wilson’s Leather, where she was the Wilson’s voice for several years and many many more national companies. *A few years ago, Gwen was named by Minnesota Music Critic Jon Bream from the Minneapolis Star Tribune as one of 30 essential black musicians who defined Minnesota’s sound. *Today~ Gwen is a writer and producer of several musical themed often sold-out shows that leaves you with a palatable experience that you can pocket and take home.


Elder Charles Caldwell

Charles Caldwell is a self-taught, African American artist whose artworks have been compared to Charles White and Norman Rockwell. Throughout his career, Charles has dedicated his artistic talents to sharing the African American experience. His creations depict African American images and experiences in a way that unites all humanity - displaying the wonders, the challenges, the joys, and pains of life. Charles' vision has allowed him to impart insightful messages in his works, messages rooted in the human condition and our continuing spiritual triumphs. Charles' major style is humanistic realism. He has been inspired by the vision and depth of Ernie Barnes, Charles White, and Michelangelo.

His early works were primarily in pencil. The techniques of a fine lead point provided a foundation for other mediums in which he has gained mastery including watercolor, acrylics, painted glass, and woodcarving. His growth as an artist led him to develop a body of abstract and impressionistic works that have captivated viewers with their subtlety and depth. His acrylic series on human intimacy and subsequent series on jazz musicians have been well received by viewers and critics. In addition, Charles has created two dynamic series of three-dimensional art in the form of parallel art and layered lithograph pieces, involving the viewer in unique ways. His ability to produce impressive works at an early age amazed many viewers and critics. Viewers often posed the following question after studying the depth and maturity in his works, ''Can I meet the artist?" This led him to create a signature autograph on several of his works, C. Caldwell, the Artist Himself.

Charles is not satisfied with viewers seeing only visual images in his works, he looks to convey ideas and emotions. This passion has led him to craft "situation art" - art that expresses thoughts and feelings. This is abundantly evident in his works, “Dr. Martin Luther King” and “Can you hear me now”. Charles often presents the spirit and values of those people that have influenced his creations, from personal heroes to everyday people. Early in his career, Charles' most noted work was a collage on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This piece captured the respected leader's journey and passion in a way that brought you closer to the civil rights experience of the Sixties. It allowed Charles to reflect on Dr. King as an important role model in his life, one that he was moved to share with others through his art. The experience of creating images of Dr. King and other famous people provided an important realization for Charles. He discovered that his ability to render positive images of everyday people - "captured moments in everyday life" - touched and inspired people in a powerful way.

Over the years, he has witnessed emotional connections between viewers and his works created from captured moments. Charles sees his artistic talent as a natural gift that promotes reconnections between man and nature, male and female, and family and community. He wants viewers to feel their own connections to the works, if just a sense for the passion and intimacy Charles has for the subjects portrayed in the works. In this way, he believes that when viewers see his works one hundred years from now, they will be able to have a conversation with C. Caldwell through the thoughts, feelings and emotions evoked. His legacy will be the impression he continues to leave on those that embrace his creative works.


Mother Mari Harris

Wise, engaging, creative, energetic, multi-talented, Loving, and fun!!! Those are not only “descriptive” words often spoken about Mari Harris: they are who she is and how she is Being in the World!

Ms. Harris is an award-winning‌ ‌Singer/Songwriter,‌ ‌an Actress, Speaker,‌ ‌and a Lover‌ ‌of‌ ‌Life‌ ‌with a powerful‌ ‌commitment‌ ‌to‌ ‌provide entertainment, empowerment,‌‌ fun, ‌and‌ ‌Love through‌ ‌the‌ ‌Arts.‌ ‌ ‌

‌She‌ ‌performs‌ ‌Internationally‌ ‌on‌ ‌stage,‌ ‌in‌ ‌concert‌ ‌halls,‌ ‌on television, the‌ ‌internet, and‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌screen--exciting‌ ‌and‌ ‌inspiring‌ ‌audiences‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌Voice‌, her Talent, ‌and‌ ‌her‌ ‌Presence. ‌ ‌Living an eclectic Life has provided a myriad of extraordinary opportunities for Ms. Harris to travel, to perform, to interact with, and to Love people, and to celebrate the Magnificence of the Human Spirit. All of this—her Life’s work and her Life’s pleasure—is what has her joyously participate in our wonderful programming for Black History Month!!!

A message from Elder Mari:

I AM Celebrating Future. I want to be considered to participate at Folks' upcoming special occasions. What fun is Being created? Can I fit in and/or co-create a way to participate with you? Please let me know by reaching out to me by email: mariharr@gmail.com!

Watch the virtual panel discussion | Feb 1 12:00-2:00 pm

On February 1, 2024, we honored a beautiful ancestor Mother Nathando Zulu in libation performed by Elder Gwen Ellis and hear a panel discussion with Local Elders: Dr. Mahmoud El Kati, Vusumuzi Zulu, Gwen Matthews, Charles Caldwell and Mari Harris who have made incredible contributions in the Artistic World as an African American educator, historian, author, storyteller, singer, performer and artist. From jazz to hip-hop, from poetry to painting, we heard about their greatest successes and challenges as African American creatives. Check out our panelists below. Don't miss out on this inspiring virtual discussion!

"An Elder's View" - Meet our Panel of Elders

Honoring Ancestor Zulu Libation Performed by "Big Momma" Gwen Ellis

Born and raised in the vibrant Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Gwen Ellis, affectionately known as "Big Momma," carries a legacy of creativity and community dedication. In the 1960s, her family's move to Maplewood, where she still resides today, marked the beginning of a new chapter, but her roots in Rondo remain a vital part of her story.

Gwen's life is deeply enriched by her family. Married for 48 years, she is a loving mother of five and grandmother of ten. Her educational background reflects her diverse interests, with a degree in child development, certifications in interior and floral design, and a crucial qualification as a Restorative Justice/Practices Circles Trainer.

Gwen's passion for nurturing young minds blossomed during her years as a homeschooling mother. This experience led her to become a sought-after Cultural Curriculum consultant and development instructor, sharing her knowledge and cultural wisdom with organizations like Boy Scouts, Jack and Jill, Girl Scouts, and Urban 4H clubs. She has also partnered with esteemed groups such as Chosen to Achieve, Network for the Development of Children of African Decent (NdCAD), African American Academy for Accelerated Learning (AAAL), Project Spirit/Freedom School, Emma Norton Services, Volunteer of America, and Empower To Be Me Leadership Institute.

For over two decades, Gwen has captivated the Twin Cities as a teaching artist. Her focus on visual arts goes beyond mere technique, igniting imaginations and fostering artistic expression in students of all ages. Gwen's unique approach seamlessly blends historical narratives with African and African American cultural perspectives, creating inspiring compositions that empower and transform. She firmly believes that "the seeds of The Creator are deposited within everyone to create," and her work embodies this philosophy, nurturing the artistic potential in each student she encounters. Co Create with Big Momma's Creative Cultural Art's by emailing: Bigmomma888@yahoo.com.


Ancestor Mother Nothando and Elder Vusumuzi Zulu

For over four decades, Ancestor Mother Nothando and Elder Vusumuzi Zulu have been stalwart proponents of Kujichagulia, the Swahili word meaning self-determination. The concept of African people defining themselves is at the heart of why they are community activists and Storytellers. They believe that the ability of a people to decide who they are, have been and will be is an awesome responsibility and power to wield.

AS 2023 recipients of the McKnight Foundation Culture Bearers Fellowship, they revel in the opportunity of transmitting the values of our African ancestors through story.

Both transplants from the south: Nothando from the sharecropping farms of Nat Turner’s County in Virginia and Vusi from the often-tumultuous city of St Louis, Missouri.

Nothando’s stories are filled with the strong human imagery of her rural – sometimes harsh, but always filled with familial love – upbringing. Nothando is a sharecropper’s daughter born in Franklin, VA. She’s the youngest and only surviving member of her six siblings in her family. While Vusi grew up in in the city where, as he often says, “we moved every time the rent was due – and we paid rent every two weeks!” Together they sought to capture and channel the energy of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements through the act of simply telling audiences who Black people really are.

Co-founding members of the Black Storytellers Alliance in Minnesota, they began producing the popular “Signifyin' & Testifyin'” three-day storytelling festival in 1991 after returning from the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS) festival and Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was such a moving experience for Vusi who had never before attended a NABS event that they knew they had to bring something like that back to inspire the people in Minnesota.

”Signifyin' and Testifyin’” has entertained, enthralled and educated tens of thousands of Minnesotans since its inception 31 years ago. Nothando and Vusi have brought Tellers from across the globe to weave the same storytelling magic. And whether it's Vusi's true-life experience in his story, “The Hog Rustlers”, or Nothando's powerful telling of “The Eagle”, festival participants and audiences continue coming back year after year to glean more nuggets of truth about our people through the art of oral storytelling. Their Storytelling brings forth the ethos in addition to the pathos of our people. They demonstrate the Joy of being Black. It’s who we are. In 2024, Black Story Tellers Alliance will launch the Nothando Zulu Storytelling Institute for the descendants of enslaved Africans in America. For more information: info@blackstorytellers.com website https://blackstorytellers.com/


Elder Dr. Mahmoud El Kati

Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati is a lecturer, author, and commentator on the African American experience. El-Kati is Professor Emeritus of History at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Professor El-Kati is the author of several books such as The Myth of Race/The Reality of Racism: Critical Essays. His current work includes being an instructor for the Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought, a monthly community forum held every 4th Friday of the month at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. Please join his Facebook page at Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati: Books, Events and Speaking Engagements to stay connected to him.


Mother Gwen Matthews

Gwen Matthews ~ is a very successful, skilled, and highly sought after singer, who has been called for years “The Girl with The Golden Voice”.

Gwen was recently inducted into the MN Music Hall of Fame April 2023 and is the First “Solo” African American Female Vocal Artist to hold this honor.

Gwen will also be inducted again this year April 2024 with Minnesota’s Own National Recording Rock Group, “CROW”.

Gwen is an extraordinary Vocalist, Producer, Songwriter, Poet, Vocal Arranger, Vocal Designer and Vocal Coach who has decades of the stage under her belt. She has performed nationally and internationally across the globe. She has recorded and sung with many great nationally known artists such as members of Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Minnesota’s own famed Rock Group Crow, Ronnie Laws, Holland Dozier Holland, Frank Wilson/ LA., Jerry Peters/LA and the late Skip Scarborough, Denis Colin/ France and so many others.

She’s has been a voice in many national commercials through the years mostly with Minneapolis jingle houses and producers like Dale Menten, Herb Pilhofer, Peter Johnson, Jeff Harrington, Reyn Guyer, Terry Easu. Gwen studied voice under Famed Vocal Trainer Instructor to the Stars, Mr. Seth Riggs from Los Angeles for many years during her 11-year stint in LA. A “fun” note is those Seth Riggs lessons were an unlimited gift to her from Stevie Wonder and she took advantage of that beautiful opportunity. She taught some of her first Vocal workshops in Paris, France and other cities in France, Germany, Finland in and around The Netherlands and in other countries throughout Europe. She later hosted workshops in various cities across the US.

Some of her major national clients for corporate businesses are Bandag Tire company, Allstate insurance Company, TARGET, Dayton’s, Pillsbury, General Mills, Radisson Hotels and Wilson’s Leather, where she was the Wilson’s voice for several years and many many more national companies. *A few years ago, Gwen was named by Minnesota Music Critic Jon Bream from the Minneapolis Star Tribune as one of 30 essential black musicians who defined Minnesota’s sound. *Today~ Gwen is a writer and producer of several musical themed often sold-out shows that leaves you with a palatable experience that you can pocket and take home.


Elder Charles Caldwell

Charles Caldwell is a self-taught, African American artist whose artworks have been compared to Charles White and Norman Rockwell. Throughout his career, Charles has dedicated his artistic talents to sharing the African American experience. His creations depict African American images and experiences in a way that unites all humanity - displaying the wonders, the challenges, the joys, and pains of life. Charles' vision has allowed him to impart insightful messages in his works, messages rooted in the human condition and our continuing spiritual triumphs. Charles' major style is humanistic realism. He has been inspired by the vision and depth of Ernie Barnes, Charles White, and Michelangelo.

His early works were primarily in pencil. The techniques of a fine lead point provided a foundation for other mediums in which he has gained mastery including watercolor, acrylics, painted glass, and woodcarving. His growth as an artist led him to develop a body of abstract and impressionistic works that have captivated viewers with their subtlety and depth. His acrylic series on human intimacy and subsequent series on jazz musicians have been well received by viewers and critics. In addition, Charles has created two dynamic series of three-dimensional art in the form of parallel art and layered lithograph pieces, involving the viewer in unique ways. His ability to produce impressive works at an early age amazed many viewers and critics. Viewers often posed the following question after studying the depth and maturity in his works, ''Can I meet the artist?" This led him to create a signature autograph on several of his works, C. Caldwell, the Artist Himself.

Charles is not satisfied with viewers seeing only visual images in his works, he looks to convey ideas and emotions. This passion has led him to craft "situation art" - art that expresses thoughts and feelings. This is abundantly evident in his works, “Dr. Martin Luther King” and “Can you hear me now”. Charles often presents the spirit and values of those people that have influenced his creations, from personal heroes to everyday people. Early in his career, Charles' most noted work was a collage on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This piece captured the respected leader's journey and passion in a way that brought you closer to the civil rights experience of the Sixties. It allowed Charles to reflect on Dr. King as an important role model in his life, one that he was moved to share with others through his art. The experience of creating images of Dr. King and other famous people provided an important realization for Charles. He discovered that his ability to render positive images of everyday people - "captured moments in everyday life" - touched and inspired people in a powerful way.

Over the years, he has witnessed emotional connections between viewers and his works created from captured moments. Charles sees his artistic talent as a natural gift that promotes reconnections between man and nature, male and female, and family and community. He wants viewers to feel their own connections to the works, if just a sense for the passion and intimacy Charles has for the subjects portrayed in the works. In this way, he believes that when viewers see his works one hundred years from now, they will be able to have a conversation with C. Caldwell through the thoughts, feelings and emotions evoked. His legacy will be the impression he continues to leave on those that embrace his creative works.


Mother Mari Harris

Wise, engaging, creative, energetic, multi-talented, Loving, and fun!!! Those are not only “descriptive” words often spoken about Mari Harris: they are who she is and how she is Being in the World!

Ms. Harris is an award-winning‌ ‌Singer/Songwriter,‌ ‌an Actress, Speaker,‌ ‌and a Lover‌ ‌of‌ ‌Life‌ ‌with a powerful‌ ‌commitment‌ ‌to‌ ‌provide entertainment, empowerment,‌‌ fun, ‌and‌ ‌Love through‌ ‌the‌ ‌Arts.‌ ‌ ‌

‌She‌ ‌performs‌ ‌Internationally‌ ‌on‌ ‌stage,‌ ‌in‌ ‌concert‌ ‌halls,‌ ‌on television, the‌ ‌internet, and‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌screen--exciting‌ ‌and‌ ‌inspiring‌ ‌audiences‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌Voice‌, her Talent, ‌and‌ ‌her‌ ‌Presence. ‌ ‌Living an eclectic Life has provided a myriad of extraordinary opportunities for Ms. Harris to travel, to perform, to interact with, and to Love people, and to celebrate the Magnificence of the Human Spirit. All of this—her Life’s work and her Life’s pleasure—is what has her joyously participate in our wonderful programming for Black History Month!!!

A message from Elder Mari:

I AM Celebrating Future. I want to be considered to participate at Folks' upcoming special occasions. What fun is Being created? Can I fit in and/or co-create a way to participate with you? Please let me know by reaching out to me by email: mariharr@gmail.com!

Page last updated: 20 Feb 2024, 08:11 AM