A WORLD OF DIVERSITY IS CELEBRATED AT WAGNER COLLEGE
Festival featuring ethnic entertainment and food
attracts thousands to Grymes Hill college campus
By DEBORAH YOUNG, Advance Staff Writer
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Within the space of Wagner College’s Spiro Center yesterday, the entire globe was vibrating: Men in bright patterned Ghanaian kente cloth stepped in time with feather-clad Native American drummers, in an impromptu dance that broke out alongside the booth displaying the handiwork of Russian artisans.
On a stage nearby, an Egyptian belly dancer held a sword aloft overhead, while the audience watched, mesmerized by the sensual movements of her hips.
It was all part of the seventh annual “Celebrate Diversity” festival at the Grymes Hill campus — an event that drew thousands and featured ethnic food, entertainment, children’s crafts and countless opportunities for learning about ourselves and each other.
“We are trying to learn from our interactions,” said Mike Baver, of the Center for Interpersonal Development and a coordinator of the Mosaic Coalition. “The journey getting here is where the magic really lies.”
The Mosaic Coalition — a joint project of Wagner College and the Center for Interpersonal Development — was formed in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in an effort to transform fear and misunderstanding into empathy and respect, said Susan Rosenberg, the college’s Mosiac Coalition’s leader.
All year, meetings are held where the diverse groups that make up Staten Island make relationships, discussing issues facing their communities and in the borough at large.
“A lot of what is happening here comes as a result of the relationships that have been made over time,” she said.
Behind her, on the wall, a sign read: “Normal is a setting on a washing machine: Embrace Diversity.” Each year, different groups are selected to be represented at the celebration, where they share dance and songs, arts and crafts, food and other aspects of their culture. Featured yesterday, were our Egyptian, Ghanaian, Native American, Nigerian, Russian and Tunisian neighbors.
“We want to be part of the Staten Island community and this has opened up tremendous opportunities for us,” said Sam Owusu-Sekyere, who estimated at least 1,000 people from the West African nation live in the borough, though oftentimes outsiders just assume they’re from Liberia or Sierra Leone, which have more populous communities here.
Behind him, a weaver worked on a traditional loom, pedaling with his feet and making clickity clack sounds with the wood. Growing longer with each movement was a strip of ceremonial, 4-inch-wide kente cloth, a patterned fabric that has been adopted by African Americans of all backgrounds, but originated thousands of years ago in Ghana, and is rich with cultural significance and history, said Owusu-Sekyere.
The saturated yellows, greens, red and black of the kente cloth played off the cool toned palates of Russian performers, who shared dances representing different parts of that vast country.
“We are so diverse even within the community, and we want to know more about who is around us,” said Kelly Silletto, who manned the Russian booth in the afternoon. For her, who has an Italian father and a mother with Russian roots, not unlike so many Americans of mixed lineage, reclaiming her heritage, she said, has become a nourishing, personal quest.