One of the most influential mentors in my early years was Arla Little, the artistic director of the Black Repertory Dance Troupe in Berkeley, Calif.
"I want you to audition for my company," she said after observing me in a dance class.
"But I'm not black," I said (before mentally slapping my forehead in shame).
"I know," Arla said, maintaining her dead-serious demeanor. "But you've got the right spirit. Come and try out."
I auditioned and spent the next four years as a member of the Black Repertory Dance Troupe.
"The black experience is grounded in struggle and celebration," Arla said at our first rehearsal, "and you don't need to be black to understand what that feels like."
Arla guided us to dig deep into the struggle and celebration of our own story, culture and lineage. Once we tapped into our blood memory, she taught us how to interpret those emotions through her dances on the Motherland, the enslaved period, the struggle for liberation, the power of the church and the contemporary black experience.
Under Arla's leadership, I learned about how to hold and express compassion, empathy and respect for many cultures. These values became the foundation of my current work as a facilitator in Transcultural Leadership and The Five Elements. Without a doubt, I would not be who I am without Arla Little.
The power and depth of my experience in Black Rep came to life earlier this year when 50 young performers from the Destiny Arts Center staged their annual dance production, "Seed Language: A New Identity." The show combined dance, song, spoken word and multimedia to interpret the words of noted activists, artists and educators.
The performers produced works such as "Beloved Community, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome," "He Can't Breathe" and "Chains Off." My soul filled with joy as I remembered dancing to works titled "For Malcolm and Martin," "Everlasting Fire," "Ise Oluwa" and "Freedom." Although the titles, technology and times had changed between 1981 and 2016, the spirit and struggle articulated in the performances were strikingly similar.
The stalwart of Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company is Sarah Crowell, the artistic director and co-founder. Sarah, like Arla, has mentored thousands of young people, instilling them with values of confidence, community, tenacity, hope and justice. Many of us have grown to become teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, engineers and yes, professional dancers, committed to fostering young people and making our world more peaceful, inclusive and just.
As I watched these young performers, I could see the seeds of destiny blossoming in their souls and smiles. Sarah summarized the her intent to give the audience "[A] renewed sense of hope, joy and perhaps a new language. A language that seeds action. Action that sows change."
For decades, Sarah Crowell and Arla (Little) Scott have been, and continue to be, master cultivators of activists and artivists for peace and justice. May we all, young and old, accept their invitation and join the dance.
Kevin Fong, who lives in San Francisco, is a nationally recognized and respected facilitator, trainer and speaker in leadership and executive development and organizational systems, philosophy and design.