On Monday, June 8th, at 12:15 p.m., there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the WatotoMemphis Youth Development Center on South Main. The 2,400-square-foot space will serve as the first permanent home for the Watoto de Afrika program, which was founded by Donald O'Conner 22 years ago and has trained an estimated 3,000 area school children, ages 8 to 17, in African-American dance, music, and drama.
Attending the ceremony will be New York folk musician, Disney Channel star, and Watoto supporter Dan Zanes. Zanes, who has a show at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre the day before, will introduce a performance by the Funzzies, an offshoot of the Watoto group consisting of 4- to 10-year-olds.
It was Watoto's success that led to the creation of the Funzzies, according to O'Conner. "The performance outshined the message," O'Conner explains. The new group was formed to bring the message back to the forefront, tackling social issues in such songs as "It's a Green Thing," "Love Everybody," and "The Bicycle Song."
Since October, O'Conner and the Funzzies have been filming Welcome to Funzville, a television show debuting in August.
O'Conner is understandably proud of the program, saying it's improved both the academic and social development of the participants. The curriculum, steeped in the traditions of artists such as Mahalia Jackson and James Baldwin, strikes a powerful chord. "The kids get a very rich sense of self," O'Conner says.
WatotoMemphis Youth Development Center Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony, Monday, June 8th, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at 55 S. Main.