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Omelika Kuumba ~ Spelman College's Drum Major

Updated on April 5, 2018

Omelika Kuumba is Spelman College's Instructor of African Dance Forms in the Department of Dance Performance & Choreography that has been a figurative "Drum Major" for the many students who are touched by her grace, focus and ability to unlock that God-given talent inside each one to achieve a quality of life beyond dance.

It is evident when you attend any of Spelman's dance programs or holiday performances, that Sister Omelika, as she is affectionately referred to by colleagues and students, that her impact on how these young people focus in performance has uplifted them on a spiritual level of awareness and purpose.

The students beam while on stage doing intricate rhythmic dance routines to the African drum beats provided by Omelika along with fellow drummers and family.

And when you see the students' interactions with Sister Omelika, you feel the enormous respect and love they have for their Drum Major.

One colleague recently wrote on Omelika's social media page:

"Sister Omelika, You have brought so much joy and inspiration to so many thru song, dance & rhythm. May it be returned to you without measure in 2018 & beyond! Love, Light, Peace, Blessings & Prosperity."

Like many of the great performers of our times, or athletes, or even a great boss in the workplace, having the technical skills to perform, or teach and supervise, is 15% of what is needed, but 85% for a successful work place, no matter what the venue is - on stage, on the field or court, or in the office - is how a teacher, a boss, or a leader interacts with those they are leading.

Many of Omelika's former students that I spoke with remembers how she made them feel that allowed them to go deeper within to find purpose.

Basketball legend, Michael Jordan, is the iconic figure as professional basketball's standard for achievement. This is not just because he won six NBA Titles, or was the premiere player of his time, maybe of all times in pro basketball, but because his ability to make everyone around him dig deeper within themselves and elevate their game is what those who played with him, or against him, talk about the most.

In the dance world, I think of Sister Omelika as channeling the likes of such greats as, Katherine Dunham, Carmen de Lavallade, Alvin Alley, and Judith Jamison, all of whom influenced generations of dancers to become successful people in life beyond their performance lives.



Omelika Kuumba is a "Drum Major" who does not twirl a baton or lead a marching band, but is an African drummer and teacher leading young women in the Performance Arts through traditional African dance to reach a higher purpose.

Sister Omelika was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a SpelHouse daughter of Osban W. Bynum (Morehouse College) and Phyllis M. Bynum (Spelman College). Omelika Kuumba is an alumna of Spelman College and proud mother of Zanaida Wakatama and Akumba Ashanti. Omelika Kuumba is a founding member and artistic director of Giwayen Mata where she is a writer, drummer, musical arranger, vocalist, choreographer, and dancer. She is a cultural arts educator, instructor of African Dance Forms in the Department of Drance Performance and Choreography at Spelman College, and former instructor of African Dance Forms in the Department of Dance at Emory University. She and her daughter, Zanaida Wakatama, also taught African Dance at Clark Atlanta University. Sis. Omelika is the Founder and CEO of Sistah With A Nia, LLC.

She has studied under the direction of masters of African dance and percussion in this country including Marie Basse, Assane Konte, Youssouf Koumbassa, Mahiri Keita, and Dr. Zak Diouf. During her first journey to Africa, Omelika studied drumming under master drummer, Taffa N’Daiye Rose and African dancing under master dancers including members of Ibrahima Cisse’s African Dance Company in Senegal.

As a percussionist, dancer, choreographer, musical arranger and an educator, Omelika has traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, Hastings, England and Bermuda. Omelika was Assistant Director of Barefoot Ballet Children’s Dance Ensemble and is founder and director of the Kuumba Krew, a children’s performing ensemble. She directs Ashietu, the Sisters Chapel African Dance and Drum Ministry at Spelman College. Omelika is an instructor and workshop leader and lecturer of music and dance at various schools and programs to expand awareness and appreciation of African dance and music. She has been a consultant for the Atlanta Public Schools Gifted and Talented Program and the National Black Arts Festival. She also teaches West African dance for Atlanta Ballet's AileyCamp. Omelika has played with vocalists including Dionne Farris, Goapele, Laurnea, Wunmi, Doria Roberts, Donnie, Rahbi, Tasha LaRae and Saidah Nairobi. Her commercial and television credits include being a featured guest on several cable television and internet programs like Real Housewives of Atlanta with Giwayen Mata and Step Up. Additionally, she was a percussionist for an American Cancer Society anti- smoking campaign with Mike E.

Omelika was a first round winner with Giwayen Mata in the third season of NBC Television’s America’s Got Talent. Together she and the ensemble were featured on the NBC Television show, 1st Look. She also performed as the percussionist in the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf under the direction of Ms. Jasmine Guy and Black Nativity, directed by Robert Connor. She was thrilled to play the role in the Spelman College Department of Drama and Dance's production of Lysistrata, directed by Dr. Eddie Bradley.

In addition to other awards that she has received with Giwayen Mata, Omelika is the recipient of awards from Women of Multi-Ethnicity and Nationality and USA Magazine as well as the Ruby Gem Drama and Dance student departmental award at Spelman College. She is also listed in Who’s Who in Black Atlanta. She received the Kuumba Award from East Point/College Park Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a Community Service Award from the Atlanta Alumnae Association of Spelman College. Omelika is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. East Point/College Park Chapter, the Spelman College Alumnae Association, and Phi Beta Delta International Honor Society at Spelman College.

I caught up recently with Omelika Kuumba to discuss her life and career, and what the future holds.


[Referenced Source: Omelika Kuumba & Omelika's Bio from Giwayen Mata website / http://www.giwayenmata.org/]

Q&A with Omelika Kuumba

Thank you Sister Omelika for taking this time in the new year to do this interview:

Q) Omelika Kuumba is your chosen African name? What does it mean, and what does the name mean to you spiritually?

A) Omelika means, "Light and Soul of the Omnipresent Mother". It was given to me by my godfather, the late Bro. Josiah Osuagwo. He gave it to me after I asked him for a name that meant, "Sunshine." I see the name as inspiration to constantly strive to be the best person I can be. The name keeps me working! Kuumba means, "Creativity". It is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It was given to me by, poet and artist, Bro. Kenneth Zakee when we performed together many years ago.


Q) You were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York? What was it like growing up in New York, and how did you come to settle in Atlanta?

A) I loved growing up in NY! It was fast-paced, exciting, multi-faceted, multi-cultural and full of fun! I most enjoyed having regular opportunities to go to the theatre on and off Broadway and going to concerts at places like Madison Square Garden. I came to Atlanta to attend Spelman College in 1977 and decided to make it my home in 1980.

Q) You are an African drummer and dancer. Was that something you learned while in New York. What attracted you to drumming and African dance?

A) I danced as a child growing up in NY. I took modern dance classes in elementary school. I also took African dance classes in Black School, a Saturday school created by several mothers, including mine, (mostly educators ) who wanted to reinforce their children's understanding and knowledge of African and African American history and culture.

I also choreographed dances to popular songs for friends in my neighborhood and my Cousins' and my singing groups. I used to play rhythms on tables, desks and chairs as a little girl and I was finally inspired to ask for a drum-set because of my Cousin, Gayelynn McKinney, a well-known jazz drummer from Detroit. My Mom got me a snare drum.

I became involved with African dance when my daughter, Zanaida Wakatama, started dancing.

I was also inspired by one of my Spelman sisters, Safiya Harrison. I saw her dance in a concert shortly after having had her third child. She looked like a beautiful gazelle, and made me wonder what it would be like to do African dance again. I had often thought of taking classes, but the idea of traipsing through town on the bus to a dance class with two young children and scraping together the money to take the class was very prohibitive for me.

In 1987, however, Wendy Lovelace got funding to host the DanceAfrica Workshop Series. This was a 6-week series of classes that was offered for FREE. With the cost of the class no longer being an issue, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. At the end of the fourth week of the series Wendy Lovelace invited me to join a company that she was starting. Dancing with Faiza! was the beginning of my professional career. I hope to be able to provide similar opportunities for other people to discover their passions and artistic possibilities without the stress of financing it.

After Faiza! I was asked to become the assistant artistic director of a company, Barefoot Ballet Children's Dance Ensemble, by its founder and artistic director, Osunlade Fatunmise.That was the beginning of my professional teaching and choreographing career. I began playing African drums with Barefoot Ballet. It was out of necessity. Our lead drummer at the time, Baba Atu Murray, was often double-booked and late or unable to make it to rehearsals. One day he arrived just prior to the end of rehearsal and found me with the children dancing as I was standing and playing on top of a closet. He invited me to play his drum instead. I've been hooked since then!

Q) Who were your influences in dance performance and drumming coming up?

A) Zanaida Wakatama and Safiya Harrison were my influences to do African dance as an adult. Gayelynn McKinney and Sheila E were my influences to drum.

Q) You are also the Artistic Director of Giwayen Mata? What's the name mean and what does your company do?

A) Giwayen Mata is a Hausa term that means, "Elephant Women". It is a term given to women who lead women's organizations. Giwayen Mata is the award-winning , dynamic, soul-stirring, all-sister, dance, percussion and vocal ensemble. We began our artistic journey together on March 28, 1993.

The ensemble performs dances, rhythms and songs of Africa and the African diaspora. We also teach classes in African dance and percussion. Our goals include inspiring and empowering our students and audience members by exposing them to the beauty and richness of dance, music, history, and cultures.

Q) In my introduction of you I compared you to people like Katherine Dunham and Michael Jordan for the impact you have on students. I could see the love, actually feel the positive energy, coming from your students as they interacted with you on stage and off. What does that mean for you personally?

A) That is one of the greatest blessings of my life! I have been teaching for nearly 30 years. I have been teaching at Spelman for 20 years. The bonds that I have built with my students have provided me with so much joy, motivation and love. I continue to be grateful for having had the chance to touch and be touched by so many lives!

Q) While attending one of your closing dance programs, your son, who is also a drummer, was your lead drummer for the students' dance performances. How much does that mean to you that your son has followed you professionally and that you can work together?

A) It means the world to me that my son and I get to work together professionally! He has gone from being one of my students to being one of my teachers. I am proud to have been at the foundation of his artistic and academic development, and I am excited to see how much he has grown. He is an excellent dancer, drummer, teacher, and a wonderful performer! I enjoy watching him teach as much as I enjoy watching him perform.


Q) I know that you had a personal incident involving an automobile accident. So, let me say, it is great that you are recovering. I know so many people were concerned for you. What do you take away from that incident and has it helped you in any way now when teaching your students?

A) Thank you so much, Robert. This part of my life has definitely been a journey! One of the lessons that I took away from the accident is that it is important for me to be seen. The person who hit me apologized profusely and insisted that she didn't mean to hurt me, but that she did not see me. Too often I have had experiences where, even in being my most authentic self, people have unintentionally hurt me because they could not really "see" me.They, therefore, did not know how to fully recognize, appreciate and respect my presence.

Another fact that was affirmed for me as I was lying down in the street, looking at the sky, feeling the excruciating pain in my foot and knee, is that joy is an unquestionable necessity for my life. There was a police officer ,whose name I wish I remembered, who stayed with me and kept me laughing as best he could the entire time we waited for an ambulance to come for me.

I was also reminded to be of service. A woman who worked at the nearby bank came out to help me. She called my Son to let him know what happened to me and also waited with me until the ambulance came. I remembered that I must acknowledge my mistakes and accept responsibilities for them, and be seen so that I can experience and bring joy to the people whom I am blessed to serve.

One of my greatest gifts from the experience, however, was the love that surrounds me! My Children were there for me from DAY ONE. They took care of me for three months. They opened their homes to me and they, their spouses and my Grandchildren nursed me forward to health. I also received a tremendous amount of love and support from the community, my family, sorors, students, classmates and friends locally and nationwide. My Mom and my best friend/Sister by everything except blood, Gretchen Gale Merriweather, came down from NY to be with me before my first surgery, and my Mom came for the second surgery.

Thanks to Ramatu A. Sabbatt, Carol Lloyd, Dr. Barbara Williams-Emerson and John Eaton, there was an amazingly successful fundraiser held on my behalf. In addition to an online campaign, there was a heartwarming, talent-filled, and affirming program hosted by Afemo and Elizabeth Omilami. Over 200 people were in attendance, many who traveled from other states. More wanted to attend, but the venue was filled to capacity. Over 500 people made donations, and sent cards and gifts.

My take-away from the experience is that I am blessed! I am humbled and I am fortunate to have family and friends who love, care and support me way beyond anything I ever imagined!

My injuries require me to be patient with myself as Iearn how to move in spite of the discomfort. They also inspire me to be even more patient with my students as they explore African dances and rhythms.

Q) I know that you have committed yourself to teaching your students and you do performances with Giwayen Mata, but I have to tell you, you have quite a stage presence with an electric smile and talent...have you ever thought about doing something beyond what you have established thus far, like touring with 'The Lion King', or performing on Broadway?

A) I would LOVE to do something like that!!!!! If you have any leads, then PLEASE let me know!


Q) You speak to young people all of the time, and you know there is a discouraging view that many young people today don't see a bright future ahead, although that may not be necessarily so with college kids, but what if you were asked to give a commencement speech for the graduating class of 2018, what would you like to share with those young graduates about their futures.

A) As long as we are given another moment on this side of eternity there is hope. Cherish your family and honor your friendships. Find your passion. Use it as a tool to uplift and motivate others. Be an agent of positive change. Acknowledge mistakes and accept responsibilities for them. Listen to your inner voice. That quiet voice within us often speaks our loudest truths. Stay humble, AND be seen so that you can experience and bring joy to the people whom you are blessed to serve!

Q) Where can our readers find you on social media Sister Omelika and find Giwayen Mata?

A) People can go to our website at : http://www.giwayenmata.org/

You may also find Omelika and Giwayen Mata on YouTube. I'm still learning how to use social media and travel through cyberspace, and you will be able to find more on Omelika Kuumba and Sistah With A Nia (SWAN) as time goes forward.


Q) At the end of things, what would you like people to remember you most for Sister Omelika?

A) Dancing and drumming have been my primary vehicles, but I hope that people remember me for the love and joy that I aimed to bring and share.


Thank you Sister Omelika for this time. I rarely get "star-struck" when interviewing such talented people, but your inspirational personality, wit, talent and focus is refreshing. Looking forward to a follow-up interview sometime in the near future.



CITY OF ATLANTA & FULTON COUNTY PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba is a dancer, choreographer, writer, vocalist, percussionist, performer, mother, daughter, educator, and inspirational leader; and

WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba began her love of African dance and music at a young age, and went on to study with many of the art form's greatest talents, later becoming a founding member of the dance, percussion and vocal ensemble Giwayen Mata, with whom she has performed since 1993; and

WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba has taught African dance to students at Spelman College, Emory University, Atlanta Public Schools, the Trollwood Performing Arts Center in North Dakota, and to students of all ages at her workshops; and

WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba has been widely recognized for her achievements, and she has been recognized by Creative Loafing, the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, Entertainment Atlanta USA Magazine, Who's Who of Professional and Business Women, Who's Who in Black Atlanta, and Women of Multi-Ethnicity and Nationality; and WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba draws inspiration for her work to heal, uplift and empower from her family, including her grandfather, Dr. Richard I. McKinney; her parents, P. Zanaida McKinney Bynum and Osban W. Bynum; her children, Zanaida Jamila Ashantina and Akumba Jalongo Ashanti; and her mentors, Torkwase Osabene and Collette Hopkins; and

WHEREAS, Omelika Kuumba will be honored by the sisters of the East Point College Park Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., at "The Kuumba Tribute" held on Sunday, May 7, 2006; NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Board of Commissioners of Fulton County gratefully acknowledges Omelika Kuumba's outstanding contributions to education and the arts, extends best wishes for a successful event, and does hereby proclaim

Sunday, May 7, 2006, as KUUMBA TRIBUTE DAY 2006" in Fulton County, Georgia. (excerpt from the official Proclamation)

Katherine Dunham
Katherine Dunham

"GO WITHIN EVERY DAY AND FIND THE INNER STRENGTH SO THAT THE WORLD WILL NOT BLOW OUT YOUR CANDLE"

-- Katherine Dunham

Judith Jamison
Judith Jamison
Carmen de Lavallade
Carmen de Lavallade

"DANCE IS ALSO UNIVERSAL. YOU CAN TAKE IT ANY PLACE AND PEOPLE WILL UNDERSTAND IT, BECAUSE IT IS A LANGUAGE EVERYONE SPEAKS."

-- Carmen de Lavallade

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland
Sheila E
Sheila E

"WHAT DRIVES ME IS REALLY JUST BEING ABLE TO BE A BLESSING TO SOMEONE, YOU KNOW. I REALLY ENJOY THAT, AND AS LONG I CAN DO, I WILL"

--Sheila E

Omelika Kuumba Photo Gallery

It is hard for students to not love the smile of their mentor in the performance arts.
It is hard for students to not love the smile of their mentor in the performance arts.

Sister Omelika's end of the semester Concerts

Spelman Colleagues, Prof. Hanan Davis, Khadijah Davis, Dr. Sakinah Davis, Dr. Julie B. Johnson, Prof. T Lang,  Prof. Kathleen Wessel​​, Prof. Aku Kadogo.
Spelman Colleagues, Prof. Hanan Davis, Khadijah Davis, Dr. Sakinah Davis, Dr. Julie B. Johnson, Prof. T Lang, Prof. Kathleen Wessel​​, Prof. Aku Kadogo.
Sis. Omelika leads audience participation at the end of her semester Final Performance with her students where she raises money for the 'Mozel Spriggs Scholarship Fund'.
Sis. Omelika leads audience participation at the end of her semester Final Performance with her students where she raises money for the 'Mozel Spriggs Scholarship Fund'.
Sis. Omelika in 20th Anniversary Concert
Sis. Omelika in 20th Anniversary Concert

Founding Members of Giwayen Mata

Sarahn Henderson, Sauda Jackson, Gail Jordan, Shalewa Mackall, Osunlade Fatunmise, Ife Hendricks, Andrea Richards-Scott, Ama Tyus, Ramatu A. Sabbatt
Sarahn Henderson, Sauda Jackson, Gail Jordan, Shalewa Mackall, Osunlade Fatunmise, Ife Hendricks, Andrea Richards-Scott, Ama Tyus, Ramatu A. Sabbatt
Sis. Omelika at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival with Jambalaya
Sis. Omelika at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival with Jambalaya
Sis. Omelika Dances During a National Black Arts Festival Performance.
Sis. Omelika Dances During a National Black Arts Festival Performance.
Sis. Omelika Rockin' on TWO Drums at FunkJazz Cafe' Festival.
Sis. Omelika Rockin' on TWO Drums at FunkJazz Cafe' Festival.
Sis. Omelika Teaches Youth About the Drum at the Atlanta Public Library.
Sis. Omelika Teaches Youth About the Drum at the Atlanta Public Library.

Mentors

Sis. Omelika with Marie Basse and Baba Chuck Davis.
Sis. Omelika with Marie Basse and Baba Chuck Davis.
Sister Omelika pictured with Assane Konte.
Sister Omelika pictured with Assane Konte.
Sis. Omelika in Mother's Day Concert.
Sis. Omelika in Mother's Day Concert.
Soaring with Giwayen Mata.
Soaring with Giwayen Mata.
Sis. Omelika with Munir Zakee at Black Nativity.
Sis. Omelika with Munir Zakee at Black Nativity.

Family is Everything to Sister Omelika!

Sister Omelika with her parents, Osban W. Bynum & Phyllis M. Bynum.
Sister Omelika with her parents, Osban W. Bynum & Phyllis M. Bynum.
Sis. Omelika's grandchildren, Ismail Wakatama, Sahrayaa Ashanti and Saajidah Wakatama .
Sis. Omelika's grandchildren, Ismail Wakatama, Sahrayaa Ashanti and Saajidah Wakatama .
Sis. Omelika after her accident with her sister, Gretchen Gale-Merriweather.
Sis. Omelika after her accident with her sister, Gretchen Gale-Merriweather.
Sis. Omelika with her son, Akumba Ashanti and daughter, Zanaida Wakatama during her birthday photo-shoot with her family.
Sis. Omelika with her son, Akumba Ashanti and daughter, Zanaida Wakatama during her birthday photo-shoot with her family.
Kuumba: To do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful than it was when we found it.
Kuumba: To do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful than it was when we found it.

Habari gani? Kuumba! Creativity!

It's who I am and what I am blessed to do!

Have a blessed and beautiful 2018!

— Omelika Kuumba

Fabulous at Fifty

Sis. Omelika dancing with her inspiration: Zanaida Wakatama.
Sis. Omelika dancing with her inspiration: Zanaida Wakatama.

Giwayen Mata

Sisters of Giwayen Mata
Sisters of Giwayen Mata

Backstage with Barefoot Ballet During Performances for the 1996 Olympic Games.

Sis. Omelika (L) with Ramatu A. Sabbatt, Hakim Wilson, Rukiya Watkins, Dr. Theresa Howard, Sauda Jackson.
Sis. Omelika (L) with Ramatu A. Sabbatt, Hakim Wilson, Rukiya Watkins, Dr. Theresa Howard, Sauda Jackson.
Sis. Omelika with the 'Green Tribe' before the Opening Ceremony for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Sis. Omelika with the 'Green Tribe' before the Opening Ceremony for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Opening Ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996

Drumming in the Opening Ceremony at the '96 Olympics in Atlanta is a highlight for Omelika. She played with "The Green Tribe" on top of the green tower overlooking the Olympic Stadium.

10th Anniversary of Ashietu, the Sisters Chapel African Dance and Drum Ministry of Spelman College.
10th Anniversary of Ashietu, the Sisters Chapel African Dance and Drum Ministry of Spelman College.
Playing with Ayinde Cartman, Akumba Ashanti & Harun Black During the Processional for Morehouse College's Class of 2013.
Playing with Ayinde Cartman, Akumba Ashanti & Harun Black During the Processional for Morehouse College's Class of 2013.
Sis. Omelika being lifted by Giwayen Mata in a piece choreographed by Kwame Ross
Sis. Omelika being lifted by Giwayen Mata in a piece choreographed by Kwame Ross
Sis. Omelika and Giwayen Mata after one of their Salute to Men Concerts.
Sis. Omelika and Giwayen Mata after one of their Salute to Men Concerts.

Sister Omelika and the casts for the stageplay, 'For Colored Girls...' directed by Ms. Jasmine Guy

Jasmine Guy, Robin Givens, Nevaina Rhodes, Danielle Deadwyler-Haslam, Nicole Ari Parker, Crystal Fox, Yakini Horn.
Jasmine Guy, Robin Givens, Nevaina Rhodes, Danielle Deadwyler-Haslam, Nicole Ari Parker, Crystal Fox, Yakini Horn.
Erica Jones, Danielle Deadwyler-Haslam, Yakini Horn, Nevaina Rhodes, Chinai Hardy, Terry Burrell, Crystal Fox, Jasmine Guy
Erica Jones, Danielle Deadwyler-Haslam, Yakini Horn, Nevaina Rhodes, Chinai Hardy, Terry Burrell, Crystal Fox, Jasmine Guy
Sis. Omelika as a Bovanti Makeup Model
Sis. Omelika as a Bovanti Makeup Model
Rite of Passage Recessional at a KIPP School in Atlanta, GA.
Rite of Passage Recessional at a KIPP School in Atlanta, GA.
Dancing for An Ancestor.
Dancing for An Ancestor.
Performing with Giwayen Mata During Kwanzaa.
Performing with Giwayen Mata During Kwanzaa.
Playing for other Spelman Alum Is Always a privilege for Sis. Omelika.
Playing for other Spelman Alum Is Always a privilege for Sis. Omelika.
"Modeling for Chester Higgins was an unexpected Blessing."
"Modeling for Chester Higgins was an unexpected Blessing."

In the Presence of Greatness!

Sister Omelika with dance legend & Choreographer, Ms. Carmen de Lavallade and Faye McQueen
Sister Omelika with dance legend & Choreographer, Ms. Carmen de Lavallade and Faye McQueen
Sister Omelika with Ms. Mozel Spriggs and famed Choreographer, Dianne McIntyre. Ms. Spriggs was one of the teachers at Spelman who founded the school's children's dance program.
Sister Omelika with Ms. Mozel Spriggs and famed Choreographer, Dianne McIntyre. Ms. Spriggs was one of the teachers at Spelman who founded the school's children's dance program.
Sister Omelika stands with out-stretched arms as she dances with her Giwayen Mata sisters in a piece she cherishes, choreographed by the incomparable Ms. Dianne McIntyre.
Sister Omelika stands with out-stretched arms as she dances with her Giwayen Mata sisters in a piece she cherishes, choreographed by the incomparable Ms. Dianne McIntyre.

Omelika Kuumba & company members explain what Giwayen Mata means and tell their company's mission.

A fitting tribute to Omelika Kuumba and her sisters of Giwayen Mata

Omelika is the teacher and lead drummer in Tasha LaRae's music video.

Sis. Omelika on drum in Saidah Nairobi's music video, 'We Are'

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness.

I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen)

— Martin Luther King, Jr. - Excerpted from his "The Drum Major Instinct" sermon on February 4th, 1968.

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    • profile image

      Sandra H. Carroll 

      9 months ago

      I met Sister Omelika in the late 1990's when our daughters attended school together.

      Over the years, I've attended as many events as possible in which she was involved. Her talent, positive energy, humbleness and that contagious smile are beyond my imagination.

      Following a rather lengthy period of not seeing her perform, I saw her perform at the 2017 Black Nativity. She treated me as though I was her BFF.

      Her talent has stirred within me a hidden desire to learn to play drums.

      (LOL, but seriously)

      I am blown away by this article. May peace, prosperity and success continue to follow her and her family.

    • profile image

      Megalya 

      10 months ago

      This was such a wonder article. It is so inspiring to see all of your accomplishments. It is an honor to have been one of your students. I hope you continue to achieve your goals and embody the amazing role model that you are.

    • profile image

      Akilah O Issa 

      10 months ago

      This is sooooo inspirational! My two daughters dance with Giwa and they love it. So do I! I have known Sis Omelika for many years. I remember when she wanted to drum and perform and the many men who were against it. She and other sisters like her are an inspiration for achieving the goals that you want to achieve. The dance is community is blessed to have her in our midst.

    • profile image

      AMY JOHNSON 

      10 months ago

      Lovely article about a beautiful spirit, sistah and Soror . Thank you for this acknowledgement and celebration. It is certainly well deserved.

      Omelika, may you continue in your wonderful work and spreading the light.

    • profile image

      Alyson Britt 

      10 months ago

      Sister, & my Soror, Omelika is the epitome of grace. She is love & light personified. What a wonderful article spotlighting our very own Atlanta treasure.

    • profile image

      Jasmine Hardaway 

      10 months ago

      Wow! What a wonderful write-up and interview with such an incredible and influential person. I’ve had the honor of being taught by Sis. Omelika as apart of the Spelman Children’s Dance Program and being selected by her to be apart of her children’s performance company Barefoot Ballet. It was then that I truly found confidence in myself. I’m so blessed to have her in my life all these years later. We see you sister Omelika!!❤️

    • profile image

      Ree Botts 

      10 months ago

      Congratulations Sister O, big number soror queen !!! I am so proud to call you a Spelman sister, teacher, and model for spreading love and light ✨

    • profile image

      Chris A 

      10 months ago

      It has been indeed a pleasure and an honor to have known you for well over 32 years. Such an inspiration as well as a delight to see the manifestation of THE CREATOR'S LOVE in every beat of your drum and your beautiful presence.

    • profile image

      Stacee Utsey 

      10 months ago

      Sister Omelika... She had me with her beautiful smile in the early 1980s. This article has exposed the world to a phenomenal soul. I am so grateful for her presence in my life. What a powerful, loving and humble spirit!

      Thank you for being obedient to your purpose. We all have benefited. Love you, my Spelman Sister and Soror

    • profile image

      Shimriah Travis 

      11 months ago

      Well done!!! So awesome that Sister Omelika is celebrated in this way, and at this dispensation in time. She has such an invigorating and infectious spirit, and a HUGE heart. Big Sister Omelika has brought so much into my life in terms of sisterhood, knowledge and wisdom, and cultural arts education. I am so grateful for her presence in my life, as well as to have graced the stage with her as a GiWA Girl. She has truly made her mark in the Universe, and to think...she's just scratching the surface.

      Amazing article that chronicles and highlights a beautiful Soul. Continue to spread joy Big Sis!!!

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      Athena 

      11 months ago

      So inspiring! You’re lessons from the accident were so reflective and thought provoking. What an amazing career and I am so happy much of it is chronicled here in one place! Shine on sister!

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      Mikhaela 

      11 months ago

      Such a beautiful article!

      Sis. Omelika has been an inspiration to me for many years. She taught me African dance in 2011 when I was just a freshman at Spelman, and I danced on and off in Ashietu until I graduated. I learned so much about myself during that period of time and went through some positive changes that helped me become the woman I am today. Performing with my brothers and sisters was always a thrill, and we’re still friends to this day. Sis. O truly has inspired us and changed our lives. A few of us from Ashietu have even loc’d our hair, just like Sis. O, because that’s how much of an inspiration she is!

      I appreciate the love and wisdom that Sis. Omelika has poured into us and continues to pour into others. It’s always a joy seeing her, whether it’s in New York or Atlanta. She truly is a ray of sunshine.

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      Rumbi Bwerinofa-Petrozzello 

      11 months ago

      It is such an gift and an honour to have you as one of my mothers! What an incredibly profile and only begins to scratch the surface of what a force Mama Omelika is.

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      Gabrielle 

      11 months ago

      This indeed is Mama O! Someone could have read this to me without mentioning Mama O’s name and I would have known it was her he was praising. I give thanks for Mama O.

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      Faith 

      11 months ago

      May her light and love continue to heal the hearts of all life. She is a phenomenal spirit being, her peace and love is just as the earth, in constant motion, it is beyond a miracle to know and love such a being.

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      Anthony Gaskin 

      11 months ago

      A BRILLIANT article on a wonderful lady. The scope In which the article reported on Omelika was very in-depth and revealed a profoundly productive artist. I consider a blessed person to have grown up with her in Brooklyn back in the day! Omelika is a inspiration to us all!

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      Mario Foston 

      11 months ago

      What a beautiful article of celebration worthy of a "Queen"! Omelika is an original and unique. Her artistry is not something that adorns her. She is rather, innately the definition of art - creative - brilliant - proficient. I truly believe that what a person is on the inside is revealed by what they verbally express. Queen Omelika's expressions are always positive and refreshing. I've known this queen for at least 25 years and through them all, what I have come to appreciate most about my sister, Omelika, is that she is undeniably humble, unquestionably generous and always uplifting. She doesn't feel she must blow out someone else's candle so that she can shine more brightly. I see you Queen Omelika. And I'm cheering for you and all of your success!

      Sisterly!!

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      Carlos McKinney 

      11 months ago

      Love This!! Amazing and Inspirational Article and interview! I love how it states teaching is only 15% and the other 85% is leading and inspiring. We need more teachers to lead and inspire like Omelika!

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      Renee Summers Haygood 

      11 months ago

      I had the pleasure and honor of spending 4 important years of my life with my sister Omelika. She and I were roommates our 1st year at Spelman College. From roommates to friends to sisters to sorors!! What an honor!!! Congrats on the wonderful article and look forward to many more. Love you forever. Thank u for being a part of my life

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      Melynee Leftridge 

      11 months ago

      I have had the honor and pleasure of being inspired by the life of Omelika. She is my Spelman sister and my sorority sister. There is light all around her, it seems, all of the time. This article allows those who do not know of it to see some of it. ...(Thank you Omelika for sharing yourself with us. We are all so much better for it. Love you spesh—Grangran)

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      Anita H. Bohannon, CEO Bovanti Cosmetics 

      11 months ago

      I have been in awe of Soror Omelika for over 30 years now! She fascinated me and the student body when she won Miss Maroon and White during our Spelman college days. What I will always cherish most is how warm and appreciated she makes you feel. Sister Omelika has inspired me and a nation of others to celebrate the art of being young gifted and black! Peace and love Sunshine!

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      Zanaida W 

      11 months ago

      Through a list of accomplishments and accolades the most astonishing is that she has called me her inspiration. A truly humbling mention that brings tears to my eyes. I only pray to be as extraordinarily outstanding as you Ma with all the smiles and sincerity in my heart. May you continue to stand in your purpose and truth for YOU ARE MY GREATEST INSPIRATION. ~Su Z

    • Sister Uwimana profile image

      Sister Uwimana 

      11 months ago

      With endless thanks and appreciation to our brother Robert for taking the time to pen this. It took me days to read, admire, beam, marvel, listen to, and watch our sister in action. In as much as I understand the comparisons to precious and previous greats.. this sister Queen Omelika is clearly in a league of her own, I continue to be in Awe of your grace, talents, and willingness to share and inspire us all. Peace and BLESSINGS in abundance.

    • profile image

      Slbur Doc 

      11 months ago

      Oh, how I love seeing your awesomeness acknowledged in print for all the world to see! I have loved you since the very early 80's when I met you at our beloved Spelman College. You are my Spelman sister, my Soror and my friend. Congratulations to you and continue to let your light shine!

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      Nautica Jacobs 

      11 months ago

      As a current student at Spelman College, I can definitely attest to how incredibly talented and inspirational Sister Omelika is. Witnessing her work since my freshman year has been a highlight of my Spelman College experience.

      Recently, I got the opportunity to get to know her better during a project I had to do this past semester for a course and I'm pretty sure her accolades is what got me an A on the project, as her accomplishments definitely speak for themselves. Beautiful both inside and out, she really is one of Spelman's greatest treasures!

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      Marcus Hill 

      11 months ago

      Wow! What an awesome article. So proud of you and your accomplishments. Omelika, you are such a wonderful asset to our entire community. Thank you for sharing your story.

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      Cecelya Taylor 

      11 months ago

      A wonderful article. Inspiring and simply awesome. Needed encouragement at this moment in time.

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      Chelsea V 

      11 months ago

      Love your so much Sis O and am so grateful you have touched my life. Congratulations on recognition and being seen! I see you!

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      Karen Beale 

      11 months ago

      This is a wonderful article about an amazing woman! As my Soror, Sand, Spelman Sister and friend, I would liken Sister Omelika to a tree who's roots are firmly planted in the ground, bringing life, comfort and nourishment to all that would sit under her branches and partake of her fruit. I'm thankful for the seeds you are planting in the next generations!

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      Annie Hardeman 

      11 months ago

      An awesome article about an amazing person. All the years that I've known her, Sister Omelika has always been a great inspiration as well as a great friend. Love You My Sister

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      Tapiwa 

      11 months ago

      Congratulations Ma! What a list of accomplishments.

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      Alexes Garrett 

      11 months ago

      Mama Omelika has Always been such a sweet, inspirational, positive influence in my dance journey/life. Her smile and her spirit have kept me coming back class after class. They have encouraged me when i simply.."cant get it!" She makes me feel comfortable even while making mistakes and she not only encourages me to dance through those mistakes but to do so unapologetically as I learn. To know her is to love her and I love her dearly. One last thing...Her smile can light up any room and her presence shines bright like a diamond. She was one of my first teachers and I will never forget who she is and always will be to me. Love you..

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      Amika 

      11 months ago

      Sister Omelika is such a light! Grateful to have experienced her talents many times! She truly is sharing her gift. and When you see her you know you have been blessed with something special. What a sweet and beautiful spirit. This was a well deserved great article.

    • Vee Gee Lee profile image

      Vee Gee Lee 

      11 months ago

      Omelika, you are a servant! You are always expressing your love to those around you, always greeting us with warmth. What a magnificent expression of creativity and love! You inspire me.

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      Osunlade Fatunmise 

      11 months ago

      I am so proud of you and proud to be touched be your love and generosity. I know angels walk the earth cleverly disguised as humans. I know one personally. Thank you for all that you do

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      Roshawn Buxton (Ms. Ro) 

      11 months ago

      This is so awesome. I am so proud to know you. Congrats on this amazing article/story. (what else could it be but amazing, it is about you :). #beSeen

    • profile image

      Sandy Rodgers 

      11 months ago

      It is with great honor that I read your beautiful life story. You are a role model for us all to witness. I truly enjoyed your lesson about being 'seen'! At first I found it quite unusual because I could not put you inside a situation where you were not seen. But as I allowed myself to be fully in your story I completely understood your message. I believe it is a timely message for all of us - be seen!! You are always so full of life and energy and light!! And I still plan to be taught by you in African dance!!

      You are such a warm and welcoming delight and treasure to the world community. Your gifts you share so freely. Like that smile that has more voltage than a football field of stadium lights!

      Thanks for being who you are at all times! Love you My Sister

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      Sandra Trimble 

      11 months ago

      What an awesome tribute! Congratulations Omelika! Continue to shine your light and be an inspiration for so many!

    • profile image

      Lyrric J 

      11 months ago

      This was such an amazing article and a beautiful reflection of Sister O. I am so grateful to have studied under her at Spelman!!! Love you Sister O!

      -L

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      sonya maxwell 

      11 months ago

      What an absolute amazing article about a beautiful and soulful spirit. Omelika's grace and beauty has always provided a beacon of light any path she has chosen to walk. We are all blessed when in her divine presence. Her ageless beauty and talents can only be compared to her beautiful spirit.

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      Celeste Anthony-Johnson 

      11 months ago

      Fierce, beauty, grace and love. Omelika exemplifies the beauty of women and more specifically Black women. Her talents and accolades are many as is her capacity to love and her humility. God has graced us with this beautiful lady. The world is definitely a better place because of her.

    • profile image

      Rache’l C. Oatis 

      11 months ago

      There are over 1,000+ reasons listed above why I love Sister O so much! So Godly proud of her contribution to African ancestry. I have learned so much from her during my time at Spelman College. Although, I was never her actual student in the classroom. I was her student in the classroom of life. Her light and love shines so bright. Love her forever!!!!

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      Ellen Robinson Ricoma 

      11 months ago

      This article is a beautiful acknowledgement of the beautiful person (inside and out) that is Omelika. It was evident, even 30 something years ago at Spelman, that my soror was destined for greatness.

    • profile image

      Andrea Connor 

      11 months ago

      What an amazing tribute Omelika!! You are truly a force to be reckoned with. I'm so proud of you and all of your accomplishments. Sending love. Peace

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      R. Ian Johnson 

      11 months ago

      I am honored to be related to you. I always stand in amazement whenever I learn new facts about you. You have touched countless lives with your gift. You inspire me to do better and be a better human. I love you my dear cousin. You are truly a Queen and an Angel. Congratulations on being recognized for this!

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      Maisha Kariamu Handy 

      11 months ago

      What an amazing tribute to an amazing woman!! I’ve been so blessed to know Sis. Omelika for many years and was beyond blessed to be her apprentice in Giwayen Mata on djembe. The works that she’s done speak for her and have impacted many people across generations past, present, and future. She was sent here to do this work and brings the rhythms of our Motherland to remind us of who we are and where we need to be going. Simply beautiful!

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      Margo Moorer 

      11 months ago

      I encountered this wonderful sister about 30 years ago upon my arrival in Atlanta from Brooklyn, New York. She was performing with Barefoot Ballet and I was taken with her beauty, excellence, expertise and mastery of her craft. I have deep appreciation for her artistry. I have always loved her command of the performance space no matter the venue. I am blessed by her gift, presence and the joy she brings no matter the event. I have hired Giwayen Mata, performed on stage in Black Nativity with her and members of the company in Atlanta since the early 90’s.

      Sister Omelika is a consummate professional and a master instructor. She performs, teaches and watches all at the same time. She’s like a mother during performance: hands on and expecting excellence from her company at all times. Sister Omelika is true woman of leadership: An Elephant Woman in every rite.

      I am a witness to her tenacity and forthrightness following her accident last year. She never missed a beat. She forged ahead through pain and performed every night! She lives out loud what she expects of others. She knows what she needs and knows how to get the best from those she encounters. She has blessed me with her truth. She blesses her Village!

      I pray God continues bless her.

      I’m proud of her accomplishments and proud to know this kindred spirit.

    • profile image

      C.Matta 

      11 months ago

      A Wonderful Read , And Such A Talented , Creative, And Inspiring Woman, Leading and Teaching and Encouraging Woman ,Thank You And GOD BLESS

    • profile image

      Gary Wells 

      11 months ago

      Sister Omelika is truly an inspiration to everyone she encounters. Spelman has a true jewel and role model in Sister Omelika. I can only smile when I hear her students say, "I want to be just like Sister Omelika;"they then state all of the different ways they want to be like her. What a blessing she is!

    • profile image

      Allyn 

      11 months ago

      What a wonderfully written article about a wonderfully made woman! The meaning of Omelika's name, specifically "Omnipresent Mother" surely speaks to how it feels when she is around. Omelika exudes calm and confidence and brings a light and peace wherever she goes. And when she is dancing that light turns into a fire that consumed the viewer with joy and energy. I learned so much more about her in this article! I am blessed to call her sister, Soror and friend.

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      Neil Taffe 

      11 months ago

      This woman is beautiful unside and OUT!!! Her spirit and smile warm the heart, wrapped in talent and regal poise! I just LUV HUR!!!

    • profile image

      Gwen Snow 

      11 months ago

      I've always had the utmost respect for your tenacity and talent. You were my children's first drum teacher.....

    • profile image

      Angela Watkins 

      11 months ago

      I've known Omelika for over 35 years and she has always shone brightly and shared her love and joy. She is truly inspiring! Thanks for this wonderful article.

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      Dr. Sheila Chamberlain 

      11 months ago

      My Spelman Classmate, my Sister, My Soror!! How do we measure our loved ones, friends and family on this planet? In this Universe? By ones life works!! Did they ADD to the betterment of our Species? To Further us in the Quality of Life Experience? Encourage, UpLift, just a simple call to say: "Hey, How are YOU!!" This is YOU!! No DOUBT you ARE historically in THAT Artistic Category of Alvin Alley, et. al.!! To read this Amazing Article, PRICELESS, DESERVED, and More to come. May the Most High Continue to Bless and Keep You ALWAYS!! Surely its time for the Georgia Hall of Fame!! Love you Dearly and Congratulations!!

    • profile image

      Issa Prescott 

      11 months ago

      Amazing article it’s almost time for that novel prize!

    • profile image

      donna wilkerson 

      11 months ago

      your spirit soars and shines so brightly! i am HONORED to be in your sister circle!

    • profile image

      Karen Malveaux 

      11 months ago

      This was a beautiful and amazing article. I learned so much about you and your work over the many years. I hope you have many more years to inspire others. Simply awesome!!

    • profile image

      Etta Lisa Hawkins 

      11 months ago

      Icon

      Visionary

      Iyalode

      Mwalimu

      Soror

      ASE-O!

    • profile image

      Latrice Pace 

      11 months ago

      What an amazing article! What awesome accomplishments! I've worked with Sister Omelika for several years and she IS her name, light and soul. Love her!

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      Esuyemi Ifayemi (Will Coleman, Ph.D.) 

      11 months ago

      "Queen" Omelika Kuumba is a bona fide inspiration, not only as a drummer, dancer and teacher, but also as a genuinely powerful presence. She expresses the talents and carries the aura of a profound connection with our ancestral spirituality. Thank you, Queen Goddess, for all that you are and share with us.

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      Kathaleena Edward Monds 

      11 months ago

      Omelika's journey, talents, and experiences are kisses upon her brow as a reflection of the ancestors grace.

      She has demonstrated, through drums and dancing, that the most powerful form of communication is the sharing of one's talents to bring about change in self, community, and world.

      Omelika has been able to do what few will ever do in a lifetime -- maximize their gifts and bring hope and beauty and light to the world around her.

      The vastness of her experiences will multiply in the lives of those she touch and will bring about a bountiful harvest for generations yet unborn.

      Asé, Hotep, Selah

    • Deb Dennis Perry profile image

      Deb Dennis Perry 

      11 months ago

      What an amazing and insightful article. I have had the pleasure of knowing Omelika for many years and being one of many beneficiaries of her love and light. Keep "shining" My Beautiful Sista...Peace and Love!

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      Stephanie G 

      11 months ago

      Thanks Omelika for sharing your love and light! Now the world knows what we knew back in the day. Your selfless concern for others shall not go unnoticed. Teach on My Sister, the ancestors are pleased...

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      Eric Green 

      11 months ago

      Great article about a Great person!! She epitomizes the excellence that Spelman College produces! What a great teacher, percussionist, writer, and humanitarian!!

      Congratulations Omelika Kuumba!!

    • profile image

      Mehib Holmes 

      11 months ago

      Fascinating read. I would add that you are also a powerful spiritual guide, humble elder, mentor and even though I am much older than you, a big sister.

      Much Peace and Love

      Baba Mehib

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      DocDiva 

      11 months ago

      OMGoodness...this is a phenomenal article about this phenomenal woman, who I have admired and respected for many years. I "see" you Sunshine.

    • profile image

      Che Butta 

      11 months ago

      I know this lady... Had the pleasure of working with her. She is lovely on the outside AND even more beautiful on the inside!! Even in the face of adversity, her smile and spirit shine bright! And talented?????? Lord have mercy the woman can play drums like you would not believe!!!! Can’t wait to see her dance❤️❤️❤️ I am truly blessed to call her friend

    • profile image

      Joi Hudson 

      11 months ago

      I love Sister Mama Omelika!! What a beautiful article to celebrate her and list some of her accomplishments as there as many more! I fondly remember that Sister Omelika remembered my name after I was no longer taking her class as a student of Spelman College. I felt so special!! She has a way of making everyone feel special, empowered, and amazing! She is phenomenal, humble and loving! An amazing mentor, artist and friend!!!

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      Immanuel Zechariah 

      11 months ago

      I am so proud of Omelika whom I affectionately call my little sis. She has always been and I believe she will always be the bright spot in so many people's lives, may the Most High continue to bless you as you unselfishly give of your talents to serve others...

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      Dr. Julie B. Johnson 

      11 months ago

      Beautiful article about a beautiful human being! Sister Omelika is such a positive and powerful force in Atlanta and beyond. I am glad this article reflects the tremendous impact she makes in our communities and sheds some light on her hard work over the years. I am thankful for the example she sets as she shares her effort, energy, creativity, and love so generously with everyone around her.

    • profile image

      AY Bryant 

      11 months ago

      Such a wonderful tribute to one of my spiritual and sisterly mentors and guides! Such a blessing to know her and be showered by her wisdom and light. Peace and Love my Sister!

    • profile image

      Troy Gaskin 

      11 months ago

      Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful article. As someone who has known you for 45 years I am humbled and honored to witness your journey. I think a testament to your greatness is to look at what others say about their experiences in your care. And you my dear friend are one of the great ones. And i have known this since I was 12 years old.

    • profile image

      Khadijah Milele 

      11 months ago

      As soon as I learned of the legend, Sis. Omelika 20 years ago as a scholar at CAU, I quickly became mesmerized by her command on and off stage. Her spirit is reminicent of all the great Queens that we study and inspire to become.

      A true drum major for creativity, empowerment, women, spirit, black excellence and the City of Atlanta! Asante Sana, Queen!

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      L. Christi Hunter 

      11 months ago

      This article highlights a sister who is Blessed and a blessing. Thank you for sharing the life of Omelika my Spelman Sister and ΔΣΘ Soror.

    • profile image

      Brittany Inge 

      11 months ago

      This article/interview is AMAZING... just like the woman it is written about. Sister Omelika has made SUCH a huge impact on so many lives and it’s beautiful to see her get her flowers NOW! Love this!

    • LeeAnet Noble profile image

      LeeAnet Noble 

      11 months ago

      Great article! I had the honor of sitting in on a rehearsal with Sister Omelika and her troupe, their energy is truly encaptivating. I look forward to seeing more works from Sister Omelika.

    • profile image

      Sy Wakatama 

      11 months ago

      An excellent piece, capturing who Omelika is,a talented, inspirational and loving person. Bravo.

    • profile image

      Valita Sellers Quattlebaum 

      11 months ago

      This is such a beautiful tribute to Sister Omelika and her many accomplishments. She is a blessing and an inspiration to all who know her. Thank you for this article!

    • profile image

      Faye Yvette McQueen 

      11 months ago

      Wow! You are a true Atlanta legend! Drum major for dance, love and life! My Soror!

    • Robsthe1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Walker 

      11 months ago from Atlanta, GA.

      I am always so overjoyed to be able to write about such wonderfully talented people who make it a point to put other people first with their God-given talents. You are one of those people Sister Omelika.

      Thank you!

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