Group aims to share authentic African culture

WARREN – Dispelling myths and learning about authentic African culture is what Students of True African-American History – SOTAH – strives for.

The group welcomed area residents Saturday during the “Know Thy Self Conference” at the YWCA in Warren, where workshops, lectures, poetry, music, dance and vendors coalesced to discern what it means to be African-American.

“I’ve been bombarded with people who want to know more about African-American culture,” said Orneil Heller, SOTAH founder and assistant fire chief for the city of Warren.

That’s why SOTAH and the YWCA are teaming up to educate residents of all races about African-American culture. Starting March 13, culture awareness classes will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at the YWCA.

“We have a rich history but a lot of people don’t know that history,” Heller said.

The group will discuss the role that African-Americans have played throughout history, beginning in Africa and progressing through slavery, civil rights and beyond.

“We helped build this country and a lot of people don’t know it,” Heller said.

The conference welcomed presentations such as “African World View” by Lea Dotson and “Tribute to Local Heroes” by councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, and even Warren G. Harding High School students.

Drevatne Baldridge, 17, received a standing ovation after reading a poem he wrote about being proud of his heritage.

“I’m tired of craziness / They don’t know they’re killing themselves, not physically but mentally / We as black people have got to step up and stop being hateful / I’m black and I’m proud and I’m not afraid to say it,” he recited.

Dotson, in her “African World View” presentation, spoke about the continent of Africa and touched on historic figures such as Sundiata Keita, an African king, and Carter G. Woodson, a famous author and historian.

She also helped to dispel myths, such as that of Africa’s landscape.

“We come from a lush garden. It’s not all desolate desert,” she said. “We have a large number of myths, religion, folklore. There is no single way of African thought. We are a very diverse people,” she said.

Andre Heller, 29, of Warren, and his cousins, Takaya Freeman, 18, and Dezerae Terrell, 20, both of Alliance, attended the event.

“I told (Terrell) so she could get some knowledge, be part of the event, experience the event,” Heller said, adding that it was important for him to learn more about African heritage as well as have access to books and information. He said he would definitely be interested in attending the upcoming study group.

“We need to be appreciative of being African American,” Dotson said.

For more information on SOTAH or the upcoming classes, email or call 330-307-6098.