SOUTH KINGSTOWN — From the community storytellers, or griots, of West Africa to American icons like Toni Morrison, Rita Dove and Isabel Wilkerson, the spoken word has served as a fundamental medium for sharing cultural values, history and lessons throughout Black history.

Next Wednesday, Janice Curtis Greene, a griot from Maryland and current president of the National Association of Black Storytellers will perform her one-woman show of Harriet Tubman at South Kingstown High School as part of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers' "25th Funda Fest: A Sankofa Celebration of Black Storytelling."

A family-oriented, all-ages performance, Greene's show is co-sponsored by the South Kingstown School Department, the Community Advisory Board of South Kingstown and Rhode Island Public Broadcasting as part of their documentary on "Underground Railroad Legends."

Valerie Tutson, executive director of the storytellers group, said Greene's show is one of many events — in-person and virtual, ticketed and free — scheduled as part of this year's Funda Fest celebration. 

Spoken word, called Funda, a Zulu word spoken by the people in South Africa, will take center stage this year, she said. 

“We are excited to present this hybrid event on our 25th anniversary," she said in a statement, noting that this year's programs will be both live and virtual and held in partnership with Haus of Glitter, W.A.R. Higher Ground International, Rhode Island Latino Arts, OUTSPOKENPVD!, Sidy Maiga, Lydia Perez, Mixed Magic Theatre, the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading, and Stages of Freedom.

The theme of the festival this year, she said, is “sankofa," an African word, symbolized by a mythical bird, which means “to look back and learn from the past, to assess from the present, and to create and build for the future."

The celebration will kick off with a "Saturday Birthday Party," Tutson said, noting that "Black History Live!" will take place at the Southside Cultural Center all day, with a storytelling workshop at 10 a.m. and a variety of performances all day from artists like Rochelle Garner Coleman, Antonio Rocha and Becky Bass.

On Sunday, Jan. 22, an event "full of spoken word and poetry" from the folks at OutspokenPVD!: Rudy “Rudacious” Cabrera and Ginay Lopes will host an event that runs from 4 – 6 p.m.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Community Flavors event, sponsored by Higher Ground International, will host an event with food, RIBS story prompts, and a traditional Grand March led by the Sweeties at the Southside Cultural Center from 5–7 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan. 28, the festival’s "Free Family Fun Day" will be split between Pawtucket’s Black Lives Matter Innovation Center and the MPACT Stage with workshops, poetry, youth and family storytelling.  

Sunday, the last day of the festival, will feature "Sacred Storytelling" at the MPACT Stage from 2–4 p.m. featuring the Mixed Magic Theatre Exult Choir, Worship Arts Restoration Inc. and featured guests.

There will also be a session of "Storytelling for Grown Folk" at 7:30 p.m. 

The events on Saturday, Jan. 28, and the performance at South Kingstown High School are free and open to the public but require registration; all the other events cost $20. 

Tickets can be purchased separately or with a festival pass, available for purchase at $75 and good for everything except the birthday party. More information is available at ribsfest.org.

Nancy Burns-Fusaro

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