Despite rain, Race Unity Day celebrators don't miss a beat


June 16, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OCCASIONAL cloudbursts couldn't dampen the spirits of hundreds of people who gathered Sunday at Cedar Lane Park to celebrate Race Unity Day.

When the clouds opened up, some performances were moved from the stage to the pavilion. The event was part of a nationwide celebration held each year on the second Sunday in June.

"The purpose of Race Unity Day is to bring people of different cultures together to appreciate their differences but also find some commonality," said David Weeks, youth volunteer coordinator for Howard County's Race Unity Day. "What better way to do that than through music and dance, and enriching us with workshops built around that theme?"

Artist Shizumi Manale demonstrated Japanese arts -- haiku, origami and swordsmanship.

Richard Harrison -- Ne-kah-pah-xe or Elk That Commands Respect From The Elk Herd -- an Osage Indian, led the crowd in a traditional circle dance of friendship.

Ssuuna wa Uganda played east African music, danced and led the audience in songs and games popular in his culture.

Jane Porter, a member of the organizing committee, estimated that nearly 500 people came to attend the workshops and enjoy performances by the Virginia Youth Workshop (a group of young performers who use music and drama to promote race unity), rhythm and blues singer Eddie Green and the Long Reach Community Choir, among others.

The Wild Women Drummers were a crowd-pleaser.

The six Quaker women -- who range in age from 60-something to 84 -- play west African drums. The Wild Women live in Friends House, a Quaker-sponsored retirement community in Sandy Spring.

Pat Weiss, 69, the group's founder, said she became interested in drumming as a way to open herself to the spirit of God.

"Chanting is one way," she said. "Looking at great art is another. Good music is one and drumming seemed like another way to be open to the spirit."

The group plays djembe drums, carved from a single piece of wood with a goatskin head. The women take drum lessons from Jaqui MacMillan, a music teacher in the Sandy Spring area.

Weiss recalls that as the group was being formed, members kicked around a few ideas for a name.

"We considered Upbeat, Offbeat and Medicare Mamas," she said, "but somehow Wild Women Drummers settled on us, and we settled on it."

The experience of drumming together, Weiss said, is like a quilting bee. "It's putting your efforts together to create something greater than what you can create on your own.

"There's a community-building aspect to drumming. When we're drumming, there's a bond that forms. You really listen to what the others are doing. There's an exhilaration when you hit the groove and you're having fun, and that makes you feel attached to the other drummers."

The other members of Wild Women Drummers are Alice Anderson, Gini Floyd, Maggie Ford, Sarah Knowlton and Judith Simmons.

The women wore pants decorated with patchwork quilt or African patterns. Anderson wore turquoise and silver jewelry.

None of the women played drums before joining the group, but all said they get a charge out of performing.

"We have a great time. It's very energizing," Knowlton said.

Under the shelter of a picnic pavilion at Cedar Lane, the audience laughed and shouted encouragement to the drummers as the women acted out a piece, "Flo and the Button Factory."

Anderson -- a delicate woman with white hair -- took the lead as Flo.

"My name is Flo," she said in a husky voice. "I got me a man. And five little children. I work in a button factory."

The number, a variation of the children's chant, "Joe and the Button Factory," included hip-shaking and moving to the rhythm of the drums.

The women say their family and friends are supportive of their interest in drumming.

"My kids say, `Go for it, Ma, you're on the cutting edge,' " Knowlton said.

Simmons said, "My daughter calls me her New Age mama."

Porter considers the Wild Women Drummers the personification of diversity. "That these white Quaker women can perform on west African drums at their age is a show of diversity of age, of race and religion," she said.

"If they can do that, it shows that we can all do anything we want."

Porter thanked Gary Arthur and Barbara Nugent of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks for helping the event to proceed smoothly in spite of the weather.

"They went out of their way to accommodate us, and showed an outstanding sense of community service through their support of this event," Porter said.

Race Unity Day was sponsored by many community organizations, including the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i Community of Howard County, Columbia Cooperative Ministry, Community Building in Howard County and the Howard County Office of Human Rights.

Golf for health

The Howard Hospital Foundation of Howard County General Hospital held a sold-out tournament for 288 golfers Friday.

The tournament at the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City included a dinner and silent auction.

Former Washington Redskin Ken Coffey won a set of Callaway irons by sinking a hole-in-one on the north nine hole.

The event raised more than $55,000 for the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Imaging Center -- a cancer resource and information center in Columbia.

Minister retires

The Rev. Gerald Goethe will retire from his position as Enabling-Minister at the Kittamaqundi Community on June 30.

Goethe has been with the church 26 years.

"It will be the long-term friendships that I'll miss most," he said.

Goethe has no definite plans, but he said, "What I'm leaving is my occupation to continue in my vocation as a man of faith, to still live out my faith."

He said he hopes to spend time sailing and enjoying his family, especially his grandchildren.

There will be a celebration of Goethe's service to the Kittamaqundi Community at 6 p.m. June 26 at the church, in Oliver's Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way in Town Center.

Information: 410-730-4855.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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