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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsAfrika House: After-School Program in Freedom City Has Closed its Doors

Afrika House: After-School Program in Freedom City Has Closed its Doors

Afrika House, the after-school program located on King St. in downtown Frederiksted, has closed its doors after 10 years of teaching Virgin Islands children and adults the history of their African and Caribbean heritage. 

Uta Reed brought African and Caribbean resources to the youth and their parents in the Bush School in Grove in 1986. Around 1994, she left to take care of her mother in California.

Reed returned in 2013 and picked up the reins, teaching the African concept to neighborhood children in the after-school program. 

“Students from nearby Claude O. Markoe traveled by foot. The Caribbean Centers for Boys and Girls of the V.I. were regulars and very supportive. They didn’t come every day or every week, but they came during the school semesters and in the summers,” Reed shared. 

Library in Liberty Hall (Photo courtesy Afrika House)

The program, which fell under the umbrella of the United Caribbean Association (UCA), was later called the Afrika House After School Club.

The Afrika House Club continued to draw local students and also visitors on cruise ships who wanted to research their own African history. Hurricane Maria in 2017 changed the course somewhat, yet the club remained open and provided resources to the community. When the COVID virus affected the movement of individuals on the island, entry to the premises slowed down, yet resources were always available, Reed noted.

In late February, Reed was given a letter from the landlord that eviction proceedings had been initiated, and she was to leave the premises by the end of March or pay the monthly increase of $400 beginning in April until she fully vacated the premises. The increase was prohibitive, Reed said. It was then she decided to leave, and began putting the valuable library books, the resources and all of the Afrika House property in storage.

“We are ‘vibing’ on a property. We want to stay in Frederiksted. We have hosted Spanish, drama, and art classes. We never really closed. We kept it open for the community. We have scientific documents, V.I. history books, and we sell those books. We teach the facts that V.I history and V.I. culture did not start with Columbus or slavery. Our history is real, not superficial,” Reed said as she shared photos of Afrika House.

The children’s payment for membership in Africa House is $1.00 each time they come to the program. There are some families who pay $40 a month for memberships. They can also purchase packets for $25 each.

Reed also sells the packets to the St. Thomas community.

Ndebele Dolls Corner (Photo courtesy Afrika House)

Beverly Edney enrolled her daughter Michelle in the Afrika House homeschool at five years old, shortly before Reed left to go to California to care for her mother. “My daughter could engage you in a real conversation at that age, after her short time with Afrika House,” Edney said. 

Both of Edney’s daughters wanted to homeschool their children. She took them to Afrika House. “Imagine, now Uta is helping them teach their children with the resources at the afterschool and they are incorporating videos with them.”

Edney explained the packets and all that is contained and their uses.

The packets are developed according to the elements: fire, air, water and earth. There are math, writing, earthquake safety, kitchen tools, mechanical tools, pictures that teach about the interior of the earth, worksheets, meditation and yoga lessons, songs, and much more. 

“My children went to school in Washington, DC, in 1982-1983, where the public library had a lot of books about Black people. The library at Afrika House far exceeds that library,” Edney shared. 

There are baskets filled with different animals, cars, dolls from different nations, and a myriad of other teachable items. Each room holds multiple resources to widen the horizon of every individual who enters.

Val Rawlins is a fixture in the community and Afrika House is family to her. She shared many photos and ideas about Afrika House. There is the entrance, the Liberty Hall, the History Hall, the Hut Room, which is “dedicated to the children and contains everything a child would want to see,” the Music Room, the Kemet Room and the Resource Area.

Music and Games Room (Photo courtesy Afrika House)

“Afrika House is a teaching institution as well as a museum. Everybody needs a place like Afrika House. It helps us to grow as a people. There is something for everyone. It’s a library within itself. All of the students who attended Afrika House excelled. Students earned their high school diploma from Afrika House when it was a homeschool. Many families went on to college and did great things,” Rawlins said.

Valerie “Wala” Hendricks enrolled her two sons in Afrika House when it was located in La Grange. Ramesses was three years old in 1986 and continued through the sixth grade. Somalie went as far as the third grade. Both boys went on to public school because Reed had to leave and care for her mother abroad. Afrika House was closed for 19 years. 

“My boys excelled in public school because of the excellent foundation at Afrika House. Although they learned well, there was a lot missing that they could have gotten at Afrika House. V.I. History and Black History were not incorporated in the curriculum, as it was also left out when I went to public school many years before. Nothing has changed,” Hendricks said with sadness in her voice.

Children’s Hut Room (Photo courtesy Afrika House)

“When Uta returned in 2013, she reopened Afrika House. We would go there every Saturday. My grandchildren were students, as my children were before them. They had such a grand time. What was taught to them at an early age has resonated with them and they have grown and developed into fine young people in the community,” Hendricks reminisced.

Hendricks went every Monday for many years. Each parent had a different day to go to Afrika House to teach and prepare lunch. Every child brought something for snack. There would be a salad for lunch and a protein and something grown from the earth on St. Croix. There was hiking, gardening and planting from seed, fruit picking, and all kinds of nature stuff, she said. 

Afrika House is a family. Uta has moved several times. This last time was 10 years at the same location. This move is not a downfall. It’s a rise up, Hendricks said.

Kemet Room (Photo courtesy Afrika House)

“Uta will get the place she wants. She must focus on what she wants. She can make it happen. Now she can get rid of the old stuff she doesn’t need and she’ll get a new space. She has a vision of the building she wants. It will be more visible to the community. Uta did the best that she could for 10 years. Afrika House will find a home,” Hendricks said with confidence in her voice.

“I wish I had more grandchildren to attend Afrika House,” Hendricks said with a chuckle too serious to miss.

The elders have already begun moving the contents of Afrika House on Saturday and Sunday to a storage unit in LaReine until Reed finds a new home. If anyone would like to help, it would be greatly appreciated. They need hands, trucks, hand trucks, men, women, and young people. The elders need help on Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 19/20 King St., Frederiksted. 

For more information or to volunteer, call Val Rawlins at 340-514-5228,

 

 

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