From a vintage corner store in the Lower Ninth Ward, a community arts center is inspiring new ideas.
Twice a week, Charise Williams walks just a few blocks from her home in the Lower Ninth Ward to attend yoga class at an old, rambling, one-time hardware store that has more recently become the Tekrema Center for Art and Culture.
“Yoga for me is like is just like my ‘ahhh’ of the week,” she says. “I’m like, ‘oh I get to go to yoga, I’m going to be so relaxed and so peaceful.’”
For her nine-year-old daughter Fatima, the same center is a favorite spot for dance classes and other after-school enrichment.
“She comes home and she’s like, ‘mom, I learned how to do this,’ and ‘mom, I learned how to do that,’ and ‘do you know we have a garden?’ And a couple of weeks ago she brought home radishes and lettuce and we made a salad,” says Williams. “There are things that happen here that we get to bring into our home afterward, which gives us a chance to interact and talk about what we did.”
Yoga and a community garden are just a few examples of how the Tekrema Center for Art and Culture reaches beyond the conventional notion of an arts center. Tekrema is a word from Ghana denoting growth and improvement. And although African-influenced arts remain the focus of the center, Tekrema founder Greer Mendy says its programs have also expanded to encourage the growth and improvement of its neighbors in many ways, especially in the years since Hurricane Katrina.
“We can’t be, everything to everyone, but what does it take to make a community whole?” says Mendy. “If the emphasis is just on your day-to-day living, then that can become very hard on your spirit, on your human spirit. So there’s got to be a place where you’re afforded some mental and emotional outlets. And that’s what we hope to do here, that’s what we hope to provide here.”
Mendy also leads the Tekrema Dance Theater, a troupe that performs at events around the city, and dance is a big part of the programming at Tekrema. The center also brings to its neighborhood guest instructors from a variety of disciplines and performances by visiting artists. The unifying theme is to cultivate a sense of wellness and vibrancy for a community, and to broaden the horizons of people who walk through the center’s doors.
“One goal for me is that when people leave here, they have the knowledge and information to be able to sit in any class, or go anywhere, and follow and understand, because that’s what was given to me,” says Mendy.
In addition to its own programming, Tekrema is proving to be an incubator for other grassroots efforts. For instance, Charise Williams is now starting her own mentoring program for teenage girls in the neighborhood. And, after seeing the impact Tekrema has made on her own family, she feels the center is the perfect place from which to run it.
“We just really want them to understand the things that are important in life,” she says. “And the young ladies I have recruited to help these girls are amazing, they’re amazing women and I think they could show young girls a lot, so I’m really excited.”
Tekrema Center for Art and Culture is located at 5640 Burgundy St., New Orleans, in the Lower Ninth Ward. For information on upcoming programs, see the center’s Facebook page or call 504-943-9779.