The Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) Manual
Short and Long Term Goals and Programs for 2015-2017 Season
African Culture and Theatre at Its Best!
This manual is designed to provide adequate information about Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Incorporated (DATI). It provides a historical background of DATI, as well as its mission and vision statements, programs, and activities that DATI hopes to undertake over the years to come. In addition, this manual is intended to provide readers and the general public the specific opportunities DATI may provide for its clientele, as well as needs for which DATI exists; what DATI intends to do to address those needs; including the core values or guiding principles accepted and espoused by DATI’s senior management and/or also accepted and shared by its employees. In this light, our core or shared values are important and enduring beliefs and ideals we share as Africans regarding what we believe to be ‘good’ (moral) social and cultural values; or what we believe may not be acceptable social norms and values. In view of the above, this manual may also provide readers and future DATI actors, directors, executives, patrons, and sponsors, the requisite information they may need in order to make an informed decision about supporting our various programs, goals, and objectives.
Also, the manual provides an impression of the audiences we targeted in the past as well as those we wish to target in the present and future—i.e., people for whom we design our programs—including children, adults, students, educators, policymakers, parents, community/religious leaders and congregations, national and international humanitarian and philanthropic organizations and individuals, and other major stakeholders. Further, the manual as well includes core services we wish to provide to make a difference in what we do. It also provides theoretical explanations of our unique attributes as an African-centered educational and cultural non-profit organization. Against this back drop, a major part of our legacy therefore, is to engage actively all our stakeholders so that we may construct programs and ideas that transcend race, creed, and diverse persuasions.
Interestingly also, DATI forms part and parcel of Dr. Joe Gbaba’s legacy as an American-Liberian playwright, theatre director and actor and as founder and Executive Director of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. This year is historically important especially as DATI celebrates its 39th Anniversary of existence, and the 42nd celebration of Dr. Gbaba as a playwright and theatre director and actor both on the continents of Africa and North America.
1. To become the leading authentic African educational and cultural organization in the United States of America, Liberia, on the entire continent of Africa, and around the globe;
2. To establish a school of African arts and culture to teach and conduct cultural research and cultural exchange programs in the diverse fields of Afrocentric and ideological literacy: reading, writing, storytelling, drama, poems, role play, drawing, painting, carving, weaving, dance, music, acting, directing, speaking engagements; conducting teacher training workshops on techniques to teach African arts and culture, and the immersion of African-centered materials in mainstream curricula across the globe, to specifically meet the learning needs of minority students and children of color;
3. To produce African textbooks and literature, and recorded live, visual and audio theatrical productions for the promotion of cultural diversity and tolerance in all societies around the world, particularly where there are individuals of varied racial, cultural and historical descents and persuasions.
1. To educate and entertain the public on African arts and culture through Afrocentric and ideological literacy, and via visual, audio, and performing arts;
2. Promote African arts and culture through the production of African children’s reader series, novels, short stories, African fireside stories, poems, production of live and audio and video recorded theatrical performances, music, dance, weaving, carving, sculpturing, etc.;
3. To conduct social and cultural research on African arts and culture around the globe, particularly on the continent of Africa; and to publish the findings of our research projects to expand universal teaching and learning in the 21st century and beyond;
4. To conduct cultural exchange programs between African and American/western artists in order to promote human understanding and peaceful coexistence; as well as for the expanse of universal knowledge among artists from various parts of the world.
1. To exhibit mutual respect and cooperation among Board members, administrators and staff of DATI and its clientele;
2. To provide the requisite on-the-job training prior to administrators and staff participating in all DATI programs and productions;
3. To promote creativity and to think outside the box from the Afrocentric perspective, thereby enhancing the long and short term goals and objectives of DATI as a pacesetting educational and cultural organization;
4. To promote peace, human understanding, and cultural exchange through DATI’s peace theatre performances;
5. To strive for excellence and customers’ satisfaction in the execution of DATI’s goals and objectives and interactions with DATI’s clientele.
Short and Long Term Goals
1. To organize the Board of Directors, administrative staff, and personnel of DATI by September 30, 2015;
2. To establish rapport with the public and acquaint the public with our vision and mission statements, as well as our core values, goals, and objectives beginning August 31, 2015;
3. To educate and entertain the general public through theatrical productions and the production of African literature and artifacts commencing 25 July, 2015 at the Cultural Extravaganza hosted by the Embassy of Liberia near Washington, D.C., and beyond this date;
4. To raise funds (approximately over half a million dollars within one year commencing August 31, 2015-August 31, 2016) to establish an office space and employ a skeletal staff to operate DATI as a legitimate and self-sufficient non-profit organization.
1. To organize the Board of Directors, administrative staff, and personnel of DATI before or by September 30, 2016;
2. To arrange a dinner and theatrical performance in the City of Bowie, Maryland no later than October 31, 2015 in celebration of the 38rd Anniversary of DATI and the 41st Anniversary of its founder Dr. Joe Gbaba, Sr. as playwright and artist/scholar;
3. To raise funds and secure an office space by February, 2016.
Our Unique Attributes
Our unique attributes include the production of authentic Afrocentric products that are research-based and centered on African folktales and fireside stories and that are pregnant with moral lessons. Our unique attributes also include African cultural values such as communal family life, social justice, bereavement, marriage, and family and individual counseling. Further, the ultimate aim of our core services is to educate and entertain the general public on African arts and culture, and to provide counseling and rehabilitation services using African cultural and moral values to redirect child soldiers, former combatants and youths who are engaged in teen and gang violence. In addition, our aim is to also effect a positive change in society by promoting cultural diversity and tolerance, and peaceful coexistence and understanding among all peoples of the world, through resourceful works of art that may promote universal teaching and learning.
According to Article 8, Section 9.12 “Compensation of Officers,” it is specified in DATI’s bylaws that, “Initially, officers [including all participants] shall serve as volunteers without compensation.” However, Officers and employees shall receive reasonable compensation for their services as may be determined by the Board of Directors once the Corporation receives grants or other revenues that may provide for Officers’ and employees’ salaries. Accordingly, the cooperation of all DATI Officers and employees is highly solicited in this matter.
The word “Dehkontee” is a Kwa expression that means, “There is time for everything” in several Kwa languages of Liberia and La Cote D’Ivoire, such as: Krahn, Kru, Grebo, Bassa, Gbi, Deiweion, and Sapo. DATI was founded in 1977 at the University of Liberia during the college days of its founder and Executive Director, Dr. Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr. Other founding members of DATI include but are not limited to: Joshua Howard (first President of DATI), Mona Bedell (Treasurer), Kathy Lokko (Secretary), Henrique Zobon Scott, Stephen J. Crayton, Jr., Nathaniel Sieh Doe, Alicia Murray, Josephine Ross, William N. Ross, III, Guyde Melvin Smith, Claude E. Langley (Business Manager), Raymond Kromah, Sondia Tubman, Christian Fenning (aka Fumbah), D. Eugene Wilson, Francis Wilson, Mohammed S. Sheriff, Herbert Elliott, Blidi Elliott, Nyemah Elliott, Calvin Harris, Joseph Butler, Comfort Innis, Sweetie Martin, Josephine Gibson, Jestina Gibson, Isaac Collins, Jr., Timotheus Weeks and many others.
However, since its founding, Dr. Gbaba has always served as director and playwright of Dehkontee Artists Theatre. As a result, almost all of the plays that have been produced by DATI over the past thirty-nine years are all Gbaba plays that are focused on issues surrounding social justice, and equality of opportunities for the less fortunate and needy of the Liberian and African societies. Principally as well, the overarching goal of DATI is to create cultural awareness through arts and culture: mainly through the performing and audio/visual arts and the production of culturally relevant textbooks to foster Afrocentric literacy and diversify mainstream curricula worldwide.
During the early stages of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc., the group initially won the hearts and minds of students of the University of Liberia, Cuttington University, and the general public, including the President of Liberia, the late William R. Tolbert, Jr., First Chief Patron of DATI. Other distinguished patrons on the continent of Africa included the late First Vice President of Sierra Leone, S. I. Koroma, the late Ghanaian Head of State, General Fred Akkuffu, former Ghanaian President, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, former Foreign Minister of Liberia, Honorable C. Cecil Dennis, Jr.; Dr. Edward B. Kesselly and Honorable J. Jenkins Peal, former Ministers of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism of Liberia; Honorable Bai T. Moore, Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism of Liberia; Congresswoman Malinda Jackson-Parker, Dr. MacKinley A. Deshield, Jr., former Dean of the College of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Liberia; and members of the diplomatic corps accredited near Monrovia between the years 1977-1980.
Dehkontee Artists Theatre presented Joe Gbaba’s “Love for Mymah” at its open house at the Tubman Hall Auditorium at the University of Liberia in 1977. The lead roles in “Love for Mymah” were enacted by Josephine Gibson as Princess Mymah and Stephen J. Crayton, Jr. as Prince Jebro. Kathy Lokko played the role of Princess Mymah’s maid. “Love for Mymah” is a tragic love story between two Liberian royalties from the Vai and Kru ethnic groups of Liberia. Their love for each other was so deep-rooted that Prince Jebro committed suicide when he discovered that Princess Mymah was poisoned and killed by her maid because the maid was envious of her mistress’s romantic relationship with the charming Prince Jebro of the Kru ethnic group of Liberia.
In December of 1977, Dehkontee Artists Theatre performed “The Chains of Apartheid” authored by Joe Gbaba in the presence of a full audience at the E. J. Roye Auditorium in Monrovia, Liberia. “The Chains of Apartheid” was based on the apartheid system in South Africa. Dr. Gbaba obtained most of his information about apartheid through a series of interviews he conducted with South African refugees that lived in Liberia during the early to mid-seventies. He interspersed in the plotline of the play the vital information he received from South African citizens that were victims of the apartheid system at the time in order to vividly portray the sufferings of Black Africans under the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Further, “The Chains of Apartheid” reflected the economic, political, and social degradation and deprivation of the people of South Africa in particular and the peoples of Southern Africa in general. Also, a principal reason for producing “The Chains of Apartheid” was to galvanize international pressure in support of guerilla warfare concomitantly engineered and carried out against racist supremacy regimes by African freedom fighters in pursuit of their independence and self-rule from their colonial masters in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique,
and Namibia. Additionally, the play called for the total liberation of Africa in support of the Government of Liberia’s zero tolerance policy toward the Apartheid System in Southern Africa during the administration of Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr. Consequently, “The Chains of Apartheid” received critical raving reviews from local and foreign press for its vivid portrayal of the sufferings of Africans under racist colonial rule in Southern Africa: Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa, respectively.
However, the actual ‘chains of apartheid’ were broken when Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia gained their independence respectively from colonial rule; and when Nelson Mandela who served twenty-seven years in prison (initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison) was later freed when an international campaign lobbied for his release in 1990 amid escalating civil strife in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was elected the first Black President of South Africa on the ballet of the African National Congress (ANC). Mr. Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa on 10 May 1994.
Further, Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. had its first command and international performance on Liberia’s Independence Day, July 26, 1978, at the State House in Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was sponsored by Sierra Leone’s First Vice President S.I. Koroma during DATI’s first international performance tour to that neighboring West African state. The play was also watched by members of the Sierra Leonean cabinet ministers and all diplomats accredited near Freetown, including the Liberian envoy, Dr. Joseph Morris who was then accredited to the Republic of Sierra Leone. A series of subsequent performances of “The Chains of Apartheid” were respectively staged at the Freetown City Hall and at Fourah Bay College, one of the leading and oldest higher institutions of learning in Africa.
In October of the same year, President William R. Tolbert, Jr. heard about the group’s magnificent performance through the kind courtesy of Liberia’s Ambassador accredited near Freetown, Dr. Joseph Morris. Subsequently, President Tolbert requested an Executive Mansion performance at the Executive Mansion Theatre on October 27, 1978 in the company of the First Lady of Liberia, Mrs. Victoria Tolbert, House Speaker Richard A. Henries, Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, J. Jenkins Peal, the Chief Justice of Liberia, J. A. A. Pierre, as well as some foreign diplomats accredited near Monrovia.
President Tolbert once again requested a repeat performance of “The Chains of Apartheid” at the Executive Mansion Theatre in April, 1979 when the late Ghanaian Head of State Fred Akkuffu paid an official state visit to Liberia. Interestingly, General Akkuffu was accompanied on that state visit by then Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. Mr. Rawlings overthrew General Fred Akkuffu as Head of State of Ghana in a bloody military coup d’etat shortly after the Ghanaian delegation departed Liberia for Ghana.
Following the Executive Mansion performances, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. also commanded another repeat performance of “The Chains of Apartheid” at the Monrovia City Hall Auditorium for all diplomats accredited near Monrovia. Subsequently, the play was nominated by the Government of Liberia to be staged at the 1979 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Heads of States Summit. The OAU now referred to as African Union (AU) was then chaired that year by Liberia’s President William R. Tolbert, Jr. Unfortunately, the play was never staged due to last minute changes that were made in the 1979 OAU (AU) Conference protocols.
DATI staged the first drama festival at the University of Liberia in July of 1978 and featured several Gbaba plays: (1) “Kekula,” a play that deals with intermarriage between Settler and Native Liberians and that supports the National Integration Policy of President Tubman; (2) “The Disappointed God-ma, “ a social play that narrates a love affair between a market woman and her boyfriend she sponsored through school but who later dumped her after he finished his studies at the University of Liberia and married another woman who was more educated and sophisticated. Sadly, the ‘god-son’ did not marry his ‘god-ma’ because she was a ‘lappalo’ (an informal Liberian expression or colloquialism that relates to a Native Liberian woman who wears traditional African garbs (lappas and bubbas). A lappalo is also someone who is not literate in the English language; (3) “Love for Mymah,” a love story between two traditional royalties from the Vai and Kru ethnic groups of Liberia. Princess Mymah was poisoned by her maid who envied her mistress’ romantic relationship with Prince Jebro of the Kru ethnic group of Liberia.
The intent of the maid was to kill her mistress in order to win Jebro’s love. Unfortunately, the sudden and tragic death of Princess Mymah deeply disappointed Prince Jebro and caused him to commit suicide. Thus, the jealous maid never got to marry the prince; (4) “My Redeemer Liveth” presents a scenario in which a man who once was not Christian accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior after many years of being a man of the world. Afterward, his conversion to Christianity turns him into a brand new person in life.
Dr. Gbaba was awarded a Liberian government scholarship after he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature (French minor) from Liberia College, University of Liberia, in December, 1980. The scholar/artist matriculated at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G) where he pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre, with emphasis in Directing and Acting. There, Dr. Gbaba also organized a branch of Dehkontee Artists Theatre at UNC-G campus that comprised African-American students of UNC-G and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NCA&T) University, respectively. Some of those that participated in the UNC-G based Dehkontee Artists Theatre included but not limited to Keith Hill, Andre Minkins, Sherry Jamaison, Sheba Wilson, Franklin Braithwaithe, Maurice Donnell, Scott Carter, etc. One positive thing that organizing DATI at UNC-G did was that it provided Dr. Gbaba and some African-American students the opportunity to bond together as Blacks from two different continents. It also helped them exchange cultural and artistic views during their interactions. Further, it afforded African-American participants a first-time opportunity to learn and live their African cultural heritage through the activities and content of the group’s productions.
For an example, Dehkontee Artists Theatre participated in the 1982 Greensboro Annual City Stage production in the “African Marketplace” section and the group featured an African war ballad entitled: “Gee, the Mighty Warrior-King”. The ballad was written, choreographed and directed by Joe Gbaba. It consisted of a choreographed dance and pantomime that depicted African warriors in a heated battle with a dragon that devoured all of its contenders until when Gee, the warrior-king, finally killed the furious and dreadful fiend and liberated his people once again.
In addition, DATI did a main stage production of Joe Gbaba’s “The Chains of Apartheid” at the Aycock Auditorium at UNC-G for both the public and graduate students in the graduate Directing/Acting sequence. This was the very first time that “The Chains of the Apartheid” was staged in the early 1980s to a predominantly white audience outside of Africa, particularly down South in the United States of America. The reaction of the white audience that watched the play was mixed for two reasons: (1) Some spectators did not expect the high level of violence that was displayed on stage and that vividly revealed the atrocities that were being meted out against Blacks during the Apartheid and colonial era in Southern Africa; and, (2) most Americans down South had little knowledge about other parts of the world at the time the play was staged at UNC-G in the early 1980s, especially when it came to issues related to the Apartheid system in Southern Africa. Therefore, majority of the audience that watched “The Chains of Apartheid” were amazed to see the similarity between how Blacks were ill-treated by whites in Southern Africa (Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa), as compared to how Blacks were being ill-treated and segregated against in the United States of America.
A typical reaction came from one of Gbaba’s classmates named Tom Bellemy as a consequence of watching the scene in which the white South African police shot a baby in the head and killed a child. Tom Bellemy remarked: “Joseph, if I had a gun in the theatre hall, I would have also shot you in the head for portraying the white man as a vicious brute in your play.” Dr. Gbaba’s response to his classmate’s emotional reaction and comments about “The Chains of Apartheid” was: “This is the truth in South Africa, Tom. So, get used to it!”
Apart from “The Chains of Apartheid”, Dehkontee Artists Theatre performed Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story” as Dr. Gbaba’s Master Directing Practicum in the UNC-Greensboro Studio Theatre. Thus the brave and daring creative and artistic move by the theatre mogul to present a theatre of the absurd piece earned Dr. Gbaba the respect of the UNC-G Theatre faculty for taking risks and going outside of the box as a creative artist/scholar.
Dr. Gbaba returned to Liberia in October 1983 after successful completion of his studies at UNC-G. He married beautiful Mrs. Ariminta Porte-Gbaba and set up home in Monrovia where he worked briefly in the Liberian government as Special Assistant to the Director-General at the National Bureau of Culture and Tourism. He reorganized Dehkontee Artists with help of some talented University of Liberia students that included but were not limited to: Prince Dorsla, Lawrence Sharpe, Vella Carey, Lars Tomo McCritty, Wilmot Collins, the late William Azam, Gray Dennis, Lysander McCritty, Caleb Domah, Ariminta Gbaba, Merrill Badio, Wilmot Collins, and many others.
During the time under review, the group did a Gbaba rendition of the passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ entitled: “The Resurrection” (See photo on previous page). The play received critical review because Dr. Gbaba jumped out of the box and his comfort zone as an artist by portraying Jesus Christ as an African; and all of Jesus’ disciples and the guards in the production wore African attires instead of the usual Roman type clothing that are usually portrayed in passion plays around the globe, especially in the Western world (See photo above).
In 1985 Dr. Gbaba was employed at Cuttington University College (now Cuttington University) as a full time faculty member and Lecturer in the Humanities Division. He taught English Composition, Drama, Shakespeare, and Contemporary Writing courses, and served as Director of the Cuttington University Players (CUP). At that juncture, the activities of Dehkontee were shut down due to stringent financial difficulties and heavy teaching workload. However, under Dr. Gbaba’s direction, CUP staged Dr. Gbaba’s “The Minstrel’s Tales” and his “The Chains of Apartheid” in 1987 on Cuttington campus in Suacoco, Bong County, Liberia, and at the Open Door Theatre in Yekepa, Nimba County, Liberia, respectively (See scene from “The Minstrel’s Tales” on following page).
“The Minstrel’s Tales” tells of an African village called Poolah in which the inhabitants embraced an alien culture and neglected their own African cultural values. As a result, bad omens and misfortunes befell upon the inhabitants of Poolah because they were cursed by the spirits of their forefathers. However, after enduring a series of hard times, deaths, famine, and other natural disasters, the minstrel revealed that the villagers repented, offered burnt offerings and sacrifices to the God of their ancestors and once again decided to embrace their native culture in order to regain the blessings of God and the spirits of their forebears.
With respect to “The Minstrel’s Tales” as an Afrocentric cultural construct, Dr. Gbaba explored the use of cultural syncretism by collaborating with a local traditional Kpelle folklorist and musician named Jokpankpan who lived in the nearby Kpelle village called Seinge in Bong County, Liberia. Jokpankpan was a local Kpelle celebrity in his own rights. He was widely known throughout the length and breadth of Kpelle Land (Bong County, Liberia) and beyond. Hence, by engaging and including a traditional Liberian folklorist and musician in his production Dr. Gbaba’s underlying motives were several folds: (1) to combine traditional African theatrical concepts with western mode of theatrical productions; (2) to inculcate Liberian arts and culture and folklore in the curriculum of institutions of higher learning in Liberia (like Cuttington University) where he lectured; and (3) to also integrate the local community (stakeholders) in the educational and cultural activities of Cuttington University. In addition to his busy teaching work load, Dr. Gbaba also took the Cuttington University Players on the road to perform at the Booker Washington Institute in Kakata, Margibi County, and at the Relda Theatre in Monrovia, Liberia, respectively.
The call to national duty transferred Dr. Gbaba from Cuttington University to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County as Principal of the Zwedru Multilateral High School (ZMHS) from 1988-1989. He was appointed by the Minister of Education, E. Othello Gongar, to head the largest secondary academic, technical, and vocational institution in Eastern Liberia in recognition of his astute statesmanship as an internationally renowned scholar/artist and for his excellent performance as an academician.
Also historically speaking, the City of Zwedru (after which ZMHS is named) was founded by Dr. Gbaba’s great-grand ancestor named Yarlee-Gbanh. Zwedru is the administrative headquarters of Grand Gedeh County located in Eastern Liberia. It is the home of the Krahn ethnic group of Liberia that the Gbaba family originates from as descendants of the Nien Dynasty of Krahn kings. As a consequence, the eastern section of Zwedru is called Gbabaville—named in honor of Dr. Gbaba’s paternal grandfather named Keh-Gbaba who was heir of Yarlee-Gbanh, the founder of Zwedru. In this light, Dr. Gbaba’s appointment as Principal of ZMHS in his home town was seen as a homecoming event.
In addition to his administrative duties, Dr. Gbaba organized the Zwedru Multilateral High School Dramatic Club. He wrote and directed “Yah” (“Vision”) that was staged at the Relda Theatre in Monrovia. As is characteristic of Dr. Gbaba he included outstanding and top notch traditional Krahn musicians the likes of Bah-Beh, Gayee-bah-pah-boo, and Gayah-Ninneh in the production of “Yah” (“Vision”) to add a rich and authentic cultural flavor to the production. The play depicted and narrated the history of Liberians as the children of Israel who journeyed to the Promise Land from East Africa to what is present day Liberia in West Africa. In March, 1989, Dr. Gbaba was transferred to the Ministry of Education as a Curriculum Specialist before the outbreak of the Liberian Civil War. During that interim period, he also taught Composition courses at the University of Liberia as an Adjunct Lecturer from 1989-1990, few months before the Liberian civil war escalated and extended to Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia.
DATI Promoting Peace and Reconciliation in Post War Liberia
Shortly after the war, Dr. Gbaba briefly served as Acting Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism of Liberia in the Interim Government of National Unity headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer before he went into private practice. He and the late Fred Deshield reorganized and incorporated Dehkontee Artists Theatre as a non-profit organization (Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc.—DATI). From 1992-1997, DATI served as an implementing agency for the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) and produced several programs including but not limited to:
1. The DATI/UNICEF Kukatonon Peaceful Conflict Resolution Project in Liberia: it consisted of the publication of a conflict resolution manual, a conflict resolution workshop for teachers and local educational leaders and civil servants, and a children's peace theatre that performed live dramas in communities, schools and villages.
The Kukatonon project educated and advocated for peace and tolerance among warring parties and factions and the Liberian people in general;
2. Designed and implemented the UNICEF Gender Equity and Women Empowerment Radio Drama Series ("Mardea"). In a society where women's worth was not acknowledged, this drama made a great political impact on the involvement and inclusion of women in Liberian political life. Through the women empowerment advocacy of UNICEF and DATI, Mrs. Ruth Sando Perry was nominated by representatives of the Liberian warring factions and endorsed by Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to head Liberia as the first female interim Head of State on the entire continent of Africa. This was long before the election of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia in 2005;
3. Designed and implemented the HIV/AIDS awareness traveling community theatre production called "Wheh-gba": the traveling theatre comprised about fifteen thespians that traveled to various parts of Liberia during the heat of the Liberian Civil War educating and entertaining the people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. The troupe performed before an approximate total crowd of 200,000 people in various regions in Liberia and displaced persons’ camps within the period of six months;
4. Ran a civic education radio program on ELBC entitled: "Dehkontee Theatre," educating Liberians about their right to vote and to actively engage in the democratic process after the civil war;
5. Provided consultancy to World Health Organization (WHO) in Liberia (1993): designed a radio drama project called “Primary Health Care” that focused on educating parents and families about how to keep their children and themselves healthy and clean;
6. Designed a radio drama entitled: “Borh-fun-fuenh” which means: “Stop fighting” in the Kru language of Liberia. The radio drama series was written for the United Nations Military Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to promote disarmament, reconciliation and rehabilitation in post war Liberia.
Again, the activities of DATI were interrupted when Dr. Gbaba fled in exile and sought political asylum in the United States of America after the ‘election’ of Charles Taylor as President of Liberia. Nevertheless, Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. was incorporated on July 21, 1998 as a non-profit organization with the Delaware Department of State in the United States; and in 2001 it obtained its 501 ©(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). DATI hopes to revive its tax exempt status due to non-compliance when the group remained dormant during the years Dr. Gbaba was pursuing his post graduate studies (second Masters and Doctorate from St. Joseph’s University) and was thus unable to successfully keep DATI up and running. However, since its second establishment in the United States DATI has only staged one production: “Town Trap,” a play that depicts the atrocities of the Liberian Civil War. Nevertheless, DATI has been revived recently after the founder opted for early retirement in 2013 from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in order to devote the rest of his lifetime and legacy to ensuring that DATI remains a viable cultural and educational agency that will promote the rich cultural heritage of Africa worldwide.
Current DATI Programs and Services
Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) Chiandeh Literacy and Peace Education After School Program (CALPEASP)
The “Chiandeh” literacy concept derives from the doctoral qualitative research work conducted by Dr. Joe Gbaba at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 2008-2009. It was entitled: “The Chiandeh Afrocentric Curriculum: Exploring Children’s Responses to an Afrocentric Curriculum” (Gbaba, 2009). The research focused on the immersion of African-centered materials and information into mainstream curricula in order to provide equity education and at the same time produce a balanced and inclusive education that addresses the teaching and learning needs of all members of society, particularly for minority students and children of color.
The Chiandeh study is a qualitative Afrocentric research project that uses several postmodern theoretical lenses (i.e., constructivism, ideological literacy model, transactional theory, multiliteracies, and multicultural concepts) along with the educational and philosophical arguments of Molefi Kete Asante (1980, 1991, 1992), Carter G. Woodson (1938), W.E.B. DuBois (1908), Marcus Garvey (1977), Maulana Karenga (1990), and many others, to investigate two research questions: (1) What ways do children respond to the Chiandeh project, and (2) How does the Chiandeh project shape children’s cultural esteem?
The Chiandeh project centers African American children in their own ancestry to enhance their cultural esteem and learning, and specifically highlights the term “cultural esteem” and the lack thereof by many Blacks as an important issue affecting Black children’s learning in our classrooms due to the monolithic Euro-centered curriculum that drives their instruction. It advocates the use of African-centered materials in mainstream curricula to provide children with equity pedagogy and equality of educational opportunities, and to combat the negative stereotypes about Africa in most American published materials and textbooks. The study revealed that when African American children were centered in their own history and culture, they exhibited more interest in literacy projects involving Afrocentric content; they displayed awareness of certain Afrocentric values and exhibited greater affinity for their ancestry, and ultimately developed self-awareness and cultural esteem.
The research further revealed that when introduced to literary materials that related to the history and culture of the research participants, they developed more likeness to learn about themselves and their cultural and historical heritage and the students developed interest in reading, writing, speaking, arguing, and behaving appropriately and remaining focused and actively engaged in their own learning activities. In addition, the Chiandeh Research dispelled the common notion held by most mainstream educators in the United States and western world that most minority students and children of color are “learning disabled”. Rather, it corroborates the perception that culturally relevant instruction and textbooks may develop children’s interest in learning and develop their expressive skills and self-confidence as well as their cultural esteem.
The research culminated with the participants mounting an African ballad depicting the African cultural norms and mores they had learned and assimilated over the course of the experiment. Indeed, the parents of the research participants were also very delighted to see the end product of the Chiandeh Afrocentric Curriculum and Textbook Experience and realized their children evolved from being termed “learning disabled” to “motivated learners”! The parents also requested a continuation of the project due to its effectiveness.
More about the Chiandeh Afrocentric Literacy and Peace Education After School Program (CALPEASP)
The Chiandeh Afrocentric Literacy and Peace Education After School Program (CALPEASP) is appropriate for students of all grade levels—elementary through high school. It is designed to expose learners to basic tenets of African cultural norms and values (love for self and fellow man; respect for elders, authorities; the dignity of earnest labor and self-fulfillment; belief in ancestral spirits; being one’s brother’s and sister’s keepers; the sociological practice of and concept of communalism and extended family relationships; learning peaceful conflict resolution techniques, etc.) through various artistic and creative media: drama, short stories, acting, storytelling, dancing, writing, speech, drawing, painting, etc. CALPEASP is research and performance-based and has proven to improve children’s (particularly children of color) responses to Afrocentric literacy. Principally, it has motivated research participants (children) to develop active listening, speaking, and writing skills while being exposed to African culture and history. The program is results-driven and designed to help each participant develop his or her portfolios and make a presentation at the end of the training period.
Providing Early Literacy Intervention and an Inclusive and Least Restrictive Learning
Environment to Develop Children’s Reading, Speaking, and Creative Writing Skills
Above a twenty-three month-old child (the youngest member of the DATI Children’s Peace Theatre) is allowed to sit in an inclusive and least restrictive teaching and learning environment with her older siblings who are seven up to nine years of age during a DATI literacy class project in an effort to provide her an early literacy intervention and least restrictive learning environment. Further, her placement in an inclusive and least restrictive learning setting was also meant to help develop her listening and speaking skills and to motivate her to develop a keen interest in reading and writing (scribbling on a piece of paper with her pencil).
Thus, when provided the opportunity to participate in the experiment, the twenty-three months old child felt an integral part of the inclusive classroom setting and developed keen interest in reading and writing as is exemplified by the child’s scribbles in her notebook (see photo above). Also she emulated her older siblings who participated in the DATI Chiandeh Afrocentric Literacy program by actively attempting to read, scribble, speak when asked questions even though her speech was not too developed to clearly express a thought but yet she felt empowered to actively participate because she was actively engaged. Furthermore, note from the photograph on the previous page that the child appears to be very engaged and focused on her writing exercise because she was provided culturally relevant instruction in a friendly home and learning and inclusive environment. As a result, the child felt an integral part of the activities that took place around her.
Against this backdrop, the child felt empowered to construct knowledge and at the same time become the centerpiece of her own learning experience as facilitated by the professor. This further supports the theory and need for home-school congruence in order to provide a continuum of learning experiences for children in school and in the communities in which they live. It further connotes the need to actively engage all stakeholders in the educational process of children, including and not limited to parents, guardians, businesses, schools, religious organizations, churches, mosques, temples, philanthropic and humanitarian organizations, etc.
Thus, through the process of inclusion, and by allowing a young child to sit in an inclusive and least restrictive literacy class among older children (below); and, by providing appropriate differentiated instruction, it is safe to assert that this may give the toddler the impetus not only to emulate what her siblings or older kids are doing in the classroom environment but to also independently develop interest in literacy activities. Consequently, early literacy intervention is one way that school districts and communities can address the learning needs of minority students and children of color to prevent the seemingly prevalent diagnoses of ‘learning disabilities and behavioral disorders’ among minority students and children of color in the United States and other parts of the western world.
However, this widely held stereotype notion of labeling African-American and other minority students as ‘learning disabled” was theoretically disproven through the Chiandeh Qualitative Research conducted by Dr. Joe Gbaba through the presentation of culturally relevant instruction to a group of African-American elementary students in a public school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2009). It was discovered during the Afrocentric literacy experiment that the misdiagnosis of most minority students and children of color with ‘learning disabilities and behavior disorders’ is primarily due to lack of congruence between the child’s home-school environments, as well as the lack of culturally relevant instruction and historical contents that reflect the heritage of minority students and children of color in the mainstream curricula that drive their instruction in the educational system in the United States of America and other parts of the western world.
Children as centerpiece of their own learning experiences.
Therefore, creating a conducive and least restrictive learning and teaching environment is essential in inspiring children to actively engage in their own creative writing and learning processes. Usually a small class size provides an enabling teaching and learning atmosphere in which each individual learner gets the attention he or she needs; and it provides learners more advantages to interact among themselves and with their facilitator (s). Above the children are actively engaged in discussions and back and forth conversations with one another and the facilitator who happens to be the founder and Executive Director of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. Dr. Joe Gbaba is an American-Liberian playwright, poet, a UNC-Greensboro trained theatre director and actor and a Jesuit trained educator and scholar. In the photograph above Dr. Gbaba plays the role of a ‘facilitator’; i.e., he empowers the children to be the centerpiece of their own learning process through an inquiry-based and interactive process to explore the fund of knowledge the children bring to the teaching and learning environment (constructivism). This process of teaching and learning is unlike the traditional method of ‘imparting’ knowledge and rote learning that is prevalent in most traditional classrooms throughout the United States and other parts of the western world.
Part of the Chiandeh Curriculum includes drama, creative writing, history lessons about the culture of Africa and Liberia and a comparative analysis exercise to enable the children to learn cultural and historical differences between the western world and African way of life or culture.
A significant aspect of DATI’s Afrocentric Chiandeh Literacy and Creative Writing Program is to produce culturally relevant textbooks that reflect the cultural history and beliefs of minority students and/or participants or learners. Above is a cartoon drawing from Joe Gbaba’s African children’s reader entitled: “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”. It is an African fireside story that narrates the unfriendly relationship between the frogs and black snake. The moral lesson that the African children’s reader portrays is that through unity success is sure; whereas disunity among individuals may bring about failure and lack of security for members of a community or society.
Also, providing children with colorful picture books and readers with picturesque natural scenes and illustrations may motivate children to develop more interest in reading and writing. It may also inspire them to write their own short stories, dramas, and poems, etc. Further, it may engender children’s creative skills and ability to develop more coping and communications skills as well as exhibit better academic performance.
Colorful children’s readers inspire the creative genius in children. It helps them develop good storytelling skills and additionally engages their various senses of seeing, listening, feeling, smelling, and their ability to apply what they learn to real life situations. The illustrations above are from “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” written by Joe Gbaba. They were created by Thomas N. Tweh, III, a Liberian artist, and the coloring was done by American artist Nicole Katkin.
Public Performances, Cultural Festivals and Arts Exhibitions
DATI’s public performances and engagements provide both members of the children’s peace theatre and adult theatre an opportunity to showcase their talents and interact with members of their audience through face-to-face dialogues or interviews. Recently DATI participated in the cultural extravaganza hosted by the Embassy of Liberia near Washington, D.C. on 25 July, 2015. Above Dr. Gbaba, Executive Director (first from right) and Mr. James Krischen Wah, Sr., President of DATI (second from right) engage visitors at the DATI stand during the cultural extravaganza. In the photograph above are Ms. Ethel Lewis of the PG County Arts and Humanities Council, and Alec Simpson, Countywide Arts Coordinator for Prince George’s County visiting the DATI during the cultural extravaganza. This is a further manifestation of the variety of programs and services DATI can offer the general public in terms of arts and cultural exhibitions and festivals, summer playground activities, literacy and creative writing workshops, as well as actors training and theatrical productions. DATI also has the basic track record to engage and train children to participate in a children’s peace theatre program to address issues concerning the peaceful resolution of conflicts and reducing the level of violence in our communities through the advocacy of children who are most vulnerable as a consequence of violence in our communities.
DATI seeks to engage families as stakeholders in the process of providing a holistic and culturally relevant education and entertainment for audiences of different age groups, diverse cultures and philosophical backgrounds. This may as well create an atmosphere conducive for cultural tolerance and peaceful coexistence among persons of diverse cultural backgrounds and persuasions.
Holding dialogues with stakeholders is also central in the provision of DATI programs. This enables DATI to receive feedbacks from the audience and to structure appropriate educational and cultural programs that suit stakeholders educational and entertainment needs.
Also, participants learn to exchange points of view in an amicable manner to induce understanding among persons of varied opinions. A major part of this process is to spur discussions on topics or issues that may interest the audience and participants to converse freely and openly with others as part of our cultural awareness goal and objective.
Promoting cultural and social interaction among persons of varied sexes also espouses free expression and shared democratic values. It engenders respect for the opinions of others, as well as encourages mutual respect and active listening skills. Above, the three gentlemen actively listen to a female express her views. DATI’s programs provide a suitable milieu to engage in respectful conversations where individuals may disagree to agree and at the same time appreciate one another’s points of view.
The DATI Children’s Peace Theatre
The education and involvement of children in cultural activities is also a key focus of DATI’s community outreach programs. Children are introduced to various forms of cultural activities such as speech exercises, historical and cultural lessons about Africa, as well as teaching children about African family values and the role of children in society. This provides children an opportunity to know they are appreciated and a chance for them to receive instructions regarding how they may know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors such as dressing appropriately, taking turns to speak when involved in a conversation that includes two or more persons, and learning to be courteous—to show respect for self and others. In the photo above, members of DATI’s Children’s Peace Theatre cordially interact with one another in a family friendly atmosphere while the adults provide supervision.
Above, members of DATI’s Children’s Peace Theatre pose with Dr. Gbaba after their successful first public performance. Rewarding children when they behave and conduct themselves well reinforces their ability to perform better, become more creative, and to be happy and productive kids. In the picture one of the children holds a bouquet of flowers presented to the group as a sign of appreciation for their successful performance.
Publishing and providing children with culturally relevant textbooks and Afrocentric literacy is a key component of DATI’s programs. Above, DATI’s President James Krischen Wah, Sr. encourages a parent to purchase an African children’s reader written by Executive Director Joe Gbaba. Parents are also encouraged to read African texts and apply in their parenting techniques some of the moral lessons they learn from reading African literacy materials including but not limited to: helping children understand the importance of the rule of law; to obey their parents, adults, and those in authority; to learn to channel their grievances through non-violent means; and to be willing to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.
What makes DATI’s programs very effective is due to the fact that DATI provides training for its personnel before they engage the public in the conduct of DATI activities. Hence, it helps to cement a concrete bond between DATI’s staff and the public because DATI’s staff members are equipped with the knowledge and expertise required to actively engage adults and children who are interested in patronizing or participating in DATI programs. Above Mr. Wah engages a mother and her kids on the essence of providing children of color culturally relevant education and literacy materials in order to boost their cultural esteem (Gbaba, 2009) and develop their interest in reading and writing activities at home and at school.
Dehkontee Artists Theatre Wows the Crowd at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts with a Broadway Style Spectacular African Theatrical Performance!
Dehkontee Artists Theatre wowed the crowd at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts last night (January 9th, 2016) with a Broadway style spectacular display of African folklore and pageantry and African theatrical performance! The thespians kept the audience spellbound and glued to their seats without intermission for an hour and a half. The African folkloristic theatrical presentation was also action packed and comical. It ended in a suspenseful denouement just when the spectators had comfortably adjusted themselves in their seats and were craving for more entertainment from the Dehkontee Artists that put up a magnificent African production of Joe Gbaba’s “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”.
Mainly, the unquenchable thirst and anxiety from the spectators was sparked by the notoriety of Black Snake preying on the fat greasy frogs of Frogsville. In the end he chased the frogs out of their own village and forced them to flee for their lives and seek refuge in the swamps of Soniwen! However, the Narrator in the play (Alie Kamara) promised the enthused audience that DATI would present a sequel to the show (a Part Two of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”) in the near future (August 20th, 2016) at the same venue to quench their desire for more African folklore and fables!
The glamorous event was in observance of the 39th Anniversary of the founding of Dehkontee Artists Theatre and the 42nd Celebration of UNC-Greensboro trained director and actor, Dr. Joe Gbaba as a notable American Liberian theatre icon and playwright! The colorful ceremony was graced by a onetime student of Dr. Joe Gbaba, His Excellency Jeremiah Sulunteh, the Liberian Ambassador accredited near Washington, D.C., who was accompanied by his wife and some members of the Liberian Embassy staff. Also present in the theatre were some local officials of Prince George’s County in the State of Maryland, as well as the Chair Lady and members of DATI’s Patrons Club: Mrs. Comfort Shilue-Sobah, Alfreda Chaeyee-Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac and Amanda Yah; DATI’s President James Krischen Wah, Sr.; DATI’s Board of Directors members Emmanuel Kwame Gbedee and Juliana Koffa-Dixon; Mr. Philip Krawlay Klah, Sr., President of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle of Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill in North Carolina; maternal uncles and aunt of Dr. Gbaba, including James Glaywulu, Smith Mooney, Joseph and Edith Wallekenneh; ULAA’s Secretary-General Arthur Doe, and the United Tchien Association in the America’s President Anthony Urey and his delegation. Other attendees included senior citizens, parents and children as well as Liberian and U.S. citizens and Bowie residents of varied age groups and racial demographics that remained speechless and fascinated by the colorful costumes of the animal characters and picturesque African set design.
The production began with a preview that consisted of the brief history of DATI’s establishment at the University of Liberia in 1977 and highlights of the contributions made by the organization and its founder Dr. Joe “Shakespeare” Gbaba toward the promotion and preservation of Liberian/African arts and culture worldwide. Special tributes were made to DATI’s first Grand Patron, the late President of the Republic of Liberia, Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr., and Dr. MacKinley A. Deshield, Jr., First Sponsor of Dehkontee Artists Theatre and former Dean of the College of Agriculture and Forestry. DATI also paid homage and observed a moment of silence for a dear friend of the organization named Mrs. Mary Nusser, the late Outreach Coordinator of the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts who suddenly passed away recently.
The curtains opened at sharp 7:30 p.m. with the agile and adept Narrator Alie Kamara, an African American of Sierra Leonean descent dressed in his spectacular zebra costume. Alie fantastically introduced the fable of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” by vividly delivering his lines in a minstrel-like fashion. He was totally immersed in his role and kept the theme of the play and the audience glued together and awake as he appeared in various scenes in the play and provided sequential continuum of the storyline to engage the audience. At one point of the production one person from the audience shouted out loudly in affirmation of a story the Narrator told about the disunity among the frogs in Frogsville. The three happy frogs of Frogsville (Toad, Bull, and Spring Frogs) were played by a father-and-sons trio: Dr. Joe Gbaba as Spring Frog, Julian Gbaba as Toad and Jacques Gbaba as Bull Frogs. The trio demonstrated a spirit of comradery while at the same time painting a clear picture of dissent among the frogs in Frogsville.
Annette Landers contributed immensely to the success of the production in many capacities: she played Mother Toad, and served as both the scenic designer for the set and the Green Carpet Event and as make-up artist. As Mother Toad and head wife of Toad the Wise One Mother Toad depicted the role of a devoted wife and mother of Baby Toad played by Ariminta Gbaba (wife of DATI’s Executive Director Dr. Joe Gbaba). Together the Toads spiced up the production with their husband-wife and mother-daughter bonds that portrayed true African family life and interrelationships. The awesome performance of the Toads was complemented by “Chay-chay-polay Chicken” played by Rita Pierre, a die-heart DATI member who travelled with her family from the State of Tennessee to celebrate with her DATI colleagues. Another DATI member that showed up for the occasion was Lars Tomo McCritty. He helped with stage management and participated as one of the guards to Black Snake.
Well, “Talk about the devil and he appears”, the old folks say. Black Snake (Daniel Kevin Moore, Jr.) nailed it! He kept the crowd on their heels for his notoriety as the archenemy of the frogs. For an example, Black Snake hissed and jeered at the frogs and horrifyingly chased them out of Frogsville after he was elected Chief of Frogsville! More importantly, Daniel Moore’s portrayal of Black Snake punctuated the morale of the play that is centered on the need for national unity and rule of law in society. The play also promotes the principles of democracy; endorses cultural and political tolerance and stresses the need for voters’ education to ensure the holding of free and fair general elections worldwide.
The protocol of the night ended with a “Green Carpet Event” during which members of the audience, including the Liberian Ambassador Mr. Jeremiah Sulunteh, had an opportunity to participate in photo shoots on the green carpet with cast members of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”. Also, copies of the published text of the play and narrative version of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” were on sale and some copies of the published narrative version of the play were autographed by the author and Executive Director of DATI Dr. Joe Gbaba.
Future DATI Performance
The public is hereby asked to look out for DATI’s next showing of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” during the spring and summer months of 2016. Also, auditions for its forthcoming production of “Love for Mymah” will be announced shortly. The paly may be presented at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts on August 20, 2016. Furthermore, the Management of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. extends its grateful thanks and appreciation to the City of Bowie for its generous grant provided to partly help underwrite the cost of the event. Grateful thanks also go to Councilman Todd Turner of District # 4 and Councilwoman Karen Toles of District # 7of Prince Geroge’s County, the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland Byod Rutherford and his wife Mrs. Monica Rutherford and all those who favorably responded to DATI’s kind invitation to attend or acknowledge appreciation of DATI’s efforts to promote culture and entertainment for residents of the City of Bowie at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts.
Engaging Parents in DATI’s Literacy and Peace Education Programs
DATI engages parents and encourages the participation of parents in DATI’s programs designed for their children. Above, Mr. Ansumana Kanneh, father of one of the members of DATI’s Children’s Peace Theatre takes a light refreshment break along with Dr. and Mrs. Gbaba at the DATI stand during the cultural extravaganza at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, D.C. Parents also help to fund programs their children participate in and they sometimes serve as chaperones during public tours and performances.
DATI’s goal and objective is to promote African arts and culture in the diaspora and on the continent of Africa. Above, executive officers of DATI are dressed in three different African garbs. On the far left DATI’s President James Krischen Wah, Sr. dresses in traditional formal Grebo attire; and his Vice President Timothy Gardiner (center) is dressed as an African-American militant; while on the far right Dr. Gbaba dresses in his royal regalia as an African prince. In other words, DATI’s cultural and educational programs are not only about “telling” but they are also about “doing” in order to give audiences and participants a genuine real life African cultural and historical experience.
Administrative Structure and Profile of the Administrators and Staff of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc.
Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) is a non-profit cultural and educational organization founded in 1977 at the University of Liberia by American-Liberian cultural guru and pedagogue Prince Dr. Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr. He is one of the surviving descendants of the Nien Royal Dynasty of the Krahn ethnic group of Liberia. The administrative structure of DATI includes a Board of Directors that is chaired by its founder. Also, members of the Board of Directors include the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and five other distinguished personalities selected from the community, or the State, or from anywhere around the globe based on their outstanding contributions to education and the promotion of universal culture of peace, tolerance and understanding among persons of diverse cultures and persuasions. The primary duty of members of the Board of Directors is to provide voluntary services and consuls in helping to allocate and solicit funding to finance, promote and expand DATI’s cultural awareness and educational programs throughout the universe.
The Board approves all fiscal programs and decisions and projects undertaken by the Organization. A Board member shall be selected or recommended and vetted by the Chairman and founder, Executive Officers of DATI and members of the Board of Directors prior to being admitted based on the distinguished nominee’s past contributions to society and keen interest in the promotion of culture and education. A Board member shall serve for a minimum period of five years and membership on the Board may be extended for as long as the member/s are in good standing and are willing to actively engage in fostering DATI’s short and long range goals and objectives through their continued financial, material, and moral supports. This may include but not limited to contributing financially, materially, and morally in the sustenance of the organization.
Officers of DATI
The Executive Director and Founder
The Executive Director is the chief administrator and visionary of DATI. The Executive Director oversees the successful day to day operations of the Organization in close consultation with members of the Board of Directors, the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary; and when needed, with other senior employees and technicians of the Organization, particularly during planning and implementation of DATI cultural productions and projects. Technicians in this context include the Box Office Manager, the Scenic Designer, Costume Designer, Make-up Artist, Stage Manager, Lighting Technician, Acoustic Technician, Videographer, etc.
Dr. Gbaba is a controversial postmodern American-Liberian playwright, UNC-Greensboro trained theatre director/actor and Jesuit trained scholar. Born of royal African descent he developed an appreciation for arts and culture and started acting at the tender age of six years of age. He credits his mother Princess Martha Gbeh-Nyennonh-Garh Gaye and aunts Princess Kowoo Tweh, Mama Solo, and Zulu Lassanah who encouraged him when they realized he was gifted in mimicking people. Later during his youthful days, he received private tutoring in English Grammar under Mr. Joshua Ross, Sr. and under the adept tutorship of Catholic Father Laurier Haines (S.M.A.), Sister Helen Reed of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) at St. Philomena’s Junior High School; and by Brother E.D. Egan (C.F.C.) at Carroll High School in Grassfield, Yekepa, Nimba County, Liberia, respectively.
Brother Egan shaped the maestro’s creative writing and acting and directing skills that subsequently led to his calling by God as a playwright, theatre director and producer in 1974 when he heard a strange voice call out his name three consecutive times. On the third calling the Lord revealed a story to the young playwright that led to the writing of his first play entitled “Life Story of Kekula”. The play depicted the socio-political and economic divide or segregation between Indigenous and Americo-Liberians (Ex-slaves who migrated to Liberia to establish self-rule on the continent of Africa). Principally, the author attempted to bridge that gap through holy matrimony when the main character, an Indigenous Liberian named Kekula married Sussie, the daughter of an Americo-Liberian family. Nine years later, Dr. Gbaba, himself an Indigenous Liberian royalty married Princess Ariminta Porte-Gbaba, a descendant of Americo-Liberians.
Dr. Gbaba received his Bachelor of Arts in English and Literature from Liberia College, University of Liberia in 1980. He was awarded a Liberian government scholarship to pursue graduate studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro from where he obtained the Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama in 1983, with emphasis in Directing and Acting. Nineteen years later he obtained the Master of Science in Education with emphasis in Elementary and Special Education in 2002 and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from St. Joseph’s Jesuit University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2009, respectively.
As a scholar/artist, Dr. Joe Gbaba has taught English Literature, Advanced Composition, Drama at several institutions of higher learning in Liberia including but not limited to Cuttington University, the University of Liberia, A.M.E. Zion Community College; Mother Pattern College of Social Science; and several high schools such as St. Patrick’s, St. Teresa’s Convent, College of West Africa, A.M.E. Zion Academy, and as Principal of Zwedru Multilateral High School, among others. Dr. Gbaba also served briefly as Acting Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism of Liberia in 1992 during the interim administration of Dr. Amos Saywer and as consultant to the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund from 1992-1997 prior to his flight in exile after the election of rebel leader Charles Taylor as President of Liberia. Dr. Gbaba also taught as a Special Education Teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for a period of two years, and as Social Work Services Manager, II with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services for ten years prior to his early retirement in 2013. He is the father of five children and five grandchildren and resides in the State of Maryland in the United States of America.
Scenic Designer, Cartoonist & Videographer
Mr. Harrison “Black Baby” Jiedueh hails from Sinoe County in Southeastern Liberia and presently resides in the State of Maryland, the United States of America. “Black Baby” as he is affectionately called brings a wealth of experience to DATI both as a scenic designer/cartoonist, videographer and computer wizard. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems in 2006 and a Master of Science in Information Systems from the Alexandria, Virginia campus of Strayer University in 2009, respectively. Most of his focus is in the areas of Computer Security Management, Decision Support System Management, Enterprise Resource Management, Network Management, Software Engineering Management, as well as System management.
As a renowned Liberian cartoonist and pacesetter, Mr. Jiedueh was the first Liberian political cartoonist who was recognized by the American Cartoonist Association and the International Cartoonist Magazine and also the first African to be invited to the United States in 1987 to attend the 30th meeting of all cartoonists from around the world. “Black Baby” was featured in Witty World, International Cartoon Magazine, as Liberia’s only political cartoonist. Indeed, he is a very resourceful, friendly, and humble person that has already begun to create a great impact as to how DATI presents effectively and artistically in all of its long and short range plans and forthcoming theatrical and artistic productions.
Other achievements of Mr. Jiedueh include special features in the Providence Journal Newspaper where he had the opportunity to exhibit his artistic work at the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society function, as well as in the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society Newsletter. In addition, “Black Baby” was commissioned in 1998 by the Smithsonian Institute to paint a 12ft X7ft mural that is located in the American History Museum. Also, our gifted cartoonist was commissioned by Liberian Ambassador Rachel Diggs in the year 2000 to paint a 10ft X 10ft art work presently hanging on the wall in the Liberian Embassy near Washington, D. C. Some of Mr. Jiedueh’s hobbies include: working on computers, painting, web development, video production, editing, and producing graphics and 3D animations. Mr. Jiedueh is also the official web developer of DATI apart from his voluntary services as Scenic Designer.
Scenic and Make-Up Designer
Annette loves the discipline of theatre and she is excited about learning the craft of acting and the whole nine yards of the stage: directing, stage management, make-up and scenic design, props manager and sometimes very good at helping out with stage properties or props for short! Officially she is now the Scenic and Make-up Designer for Dehkontee Artists Theatre and she is just phenomenal when it comes to articulating the details of the scenery and other artistic nuances that make a production look very attractive and spicy. She was particularly helpful with the make-up aspect of the production of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”. She craftily painted the faces of the characters and made them look authentic. Oh, another fine quality of Annette’s is that she is a teamster, a “go-getter” and a fine cook—always bringing in some pastries during rehearsals to motivate the thespians to perform with great excitement!
Annette Landers made her debut into theater in 2013 as assistant stage manager for " Superior Donuts" at the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since then, she appeared in Big River, Miracle on 34th Street, Harvey and the Thunderous Production One Act Festival in 2013 and 2014. She made her directorial debut in 2015 in Thunderous Productions One Act Festival's No More Corn Beef. Recently Annette put her talents to good use when she oversaw the scenic design of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”, and she even add a touch of class to our Green Carpet Event—the first of its kind in the United States. Usually such an occasion was climaxed with a “Red Carpet” but DATI went “Green” because the frogs in Frogsville were all green and the spectators that watched the drama and took photos on the Green Carpet loved it to death! Annette played Mother Toad in Dr. Joe Gbaba’s “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” alongside Prince Julian Gbaba who played “Toad the Wise One”, Mother Toad’s husband, and Baby Toad played by Ariminta Gbaba. Of course the three Toads went head on and lived their individual roles perfectly well to wow the crowd!
Acoustic & Lighting Designer
Lars Tomo McCritty is a delightful theatre enthusiast and performer. He started acting and playing music at a very tender age and is a graduate of Carroll High School, a prestigious arts and science secondary institution in Liberia. He also briefly attended the University of Liberia before traveling to the United States of America. Tomo has a keen interest in playing musical instruments: piano, guitar, drums, and does well in acting. He has been a DATI member since the early 1980s when he was a student of the University of Liberia and has participated in numerous DATI productions such as “The Resurrection”, “Chakla Wedding”, and “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville”, to name a few. McCritty is tactile and quite handy when it comes to acoustics and lighting and has managed the acoustic and lighting aspects of DATI’s stage productions over the years.
Props and Children’s Peace Theatre Manager
Alie Kamara has a penchant for theatre. He states he has been in numerous drama productions including “Animal Farm”. Alie says he writes poetry and sometimes screen play during his leisure time and enrolled in the Montgomery Community College theatre program for one semester. Last year he participated in the Thunderous Productions One Act Festival's No More Corn Beef directed by Annette Landers before signing up to participate in Dehkontee Artists production of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” in which he played dual roles as Narrator and Elder. Alie Kamara wowed the crowd as Narrator in “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” through the vivid portrayal of an African village minstrel. He will make a very good acting coach for the DATI Children’s Peace Theatre.
Assistant Manager for Props and Children’s Peace Theatre
Rita Beslow-Pierre is Assistant Manager for Props and Children’s Peace Theatre. Her experience with DATI dates back in the early 1990s in Monrovia during the Liberian civil war period. She grew up in Southcentral Liberia in the Bong Mining concession area in Bong County, Liberia, where she began elementary education. Mrs. Pierre transferred to Monrovia and attended B.W. Harris Episcopal High School and the University of Liberia, respectively. However, after two semesters, Mrs. Pierre enrolled in the Phebe School of Nursing in Suacoco, Bong County, Liberia and graduated as a Nurse/Midwife.
Mrs. Pierre has been acting since she was eight years old, and took part in numerous school, church, and community plays and television sitcoms. She joined Dehkontee Artists Theatre when she returned home from Ghana in 1991. Since then, Rita has co-starred with DATI’s founder and Executive Director, Dr. Joe Gbaba in two major DATI productions including “No More Hard Times” , and the radio drama “Roads to Recovery”. She also played Mary, the mother of Jesus in Joe Gbaba’s “The Resurrection”, and recently, as “Chay-chay-poly Chicken” in “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts. Rita lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband of thirty-five years, Alexander Pierre and their three sons: Francois, Marcel, and Michel.
Members of the Board of Directors
Dr. Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D. (Chairman)
James Krischen Wah, Sr. (Member)
Timothy Gardiner (Member)
Mrs. Ariminta H. Gbaba (Secretary)
Emmanuel Kwame Gbedee (Treasurer)
Mrs. Juliana Koffa-Dixon (Member)
Father James Yarsiah (Member)
Dr. Molefi Asante (Member)
Asby Fulmer (Member)
Archie Arnold Wilson (Member)
Short Range Action Plan (July 15, 2015-July 15, 2017)
1. To correspond with and recruit members of the Board of Directors, administrative staff, and personnel of DATI by September 30, 2015;
2. To produce profile of Board members, administrative staff, and personnel and post on DATI Website by July 31, 2015;
3. To conduct bi-weekly rehearsals for DATI Children’s Peace Theatre (July 5-24, 2015)
4. Conduct joint technical rehearsal for adult theatre and children’s peace theatre for July 25th performance at Liberian Embassy on July 18, 2015;
5. Participate in Embassy of Liberia Cultural Extravaganza at Chancery Grounds in Washington, D.C. on July 25, 2015;
6. Hold auditions for cast of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” (July 26-31);
7. Begin rehearsals for “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” (August 1-28 October, 2015);
8. To begin ticket sale by September 1, 2015.
9. Mount first public production of “The Frogs and Black Snakes in Frogsville” in the City of Bowie, Maryland (October 30, 31-November 1, 2015);
10. Arrange international performance tour to Europe and other North American countries.
N.B.: The proposed projections, particularly mounting the first public production is contingent upon the availability of initial seed money to jump start our project. In this light the management of DATI would like to appeal to all parents, sponsors, patrons, philanthropists, and lovers of arts and culture to donate generously to our programs and projects. DATI is a non-profit cultural and educational organization and hopes to reinstate its tax exempt status soon.
For those needing more information about Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI), please feel free to contact the following DATI Executive Officers:
1. Executive Director: tel. (267) 973-1709; e-mail: email@example.com;
2. President: (484) 664-8006; e-mail: Jkwah1@hotmail.com;
3. Vice President: (267) 298-7249; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
We can also be contacted online at the following websites:
Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc.(DATI) Celebrates 39th Anniversary as a Premiere African Cultural Non-Profit Theatre Organization in the portrayal of the ancient cultures of the world’s oldest civilization.
Performing an African death ritual
Grateful thanks and appreciation to Councilman Todd Turner of District #4 of Prince George’s County, the City of Bowie Arts Council and the staff of the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts for hosting our 39th Anniversary and the 42nd Celebration of Dr. Joe Gbaba as Playwright, theatre director, actor, and producer. We look forward to many years of fruitful collaboration with the City, Prince George’s County and the entire State of Maryland, as well as other state and federal government agencies, international and local philanthropic organizations and philanthropists in the near future, to educate and entertain the world about the cultures and histories of Africa.