The titles of mayor and village president are interchangeable in Oak Park. Since Vicki Scaman was elected in 2019, she chose to be referred to as village president. Last Saturday, she changed her stance – at least briefly – in the name of exercise. 

Scaman joined members of the public and other civil servants Saturday morning to raise heart rates for “Move with the Mayor,” a national initiative to encourage communities to engage in physical activity to lead healthier lives. 

“I hope to support as many events like this as possible,” said Scaman.

Donna Calendar, artistic director of Kuumba Kids, leads Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman and others during a West African dance class on the lawn of village hall at the Move with the Mayor event on Saturday, June 3. | Todd A. Bannor

Those who braved the heat were treated to a free West African dance class on the lawn of village hall, 123 Madison St., taught by Donna Callender, Kuumba Kids LLC artistic director and founder. Callender led the crowd through some stretches then got to work teaching “manjani,” a social dance traditionally performed by young girls in Mali. Music was provided by the expert hands of professional drummers Felix Pollard and Akinjobi Davis, playing the djembe and dunun, respectively.

“The event was educational, joyful and promoted a great sense of community,” said Scaman.

Drummers perform West African drumming on the lawn of Oak Park Village Hall. Felix Pollard (foreground) plays the djembe drum accompanied by Akinjobi Davis on the dunun drum. | Todd A. Bannor

Several familiar faces were seen at “Move with the Mayor,” including Police Chief Shatonya Johnson, wearing exercise clothes in lieu of a badge, and “Pawfficer” Howie, the police department’s community service dog. Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder brought water and sunscreen to share, while Village Clerk Christina Waters danced with her two daughters. Even State Rep. Camille Lilly stopped by to shake a leg.

“I had rhythm I didn’t even know I had,” Lilly told the crowd.

Kuumba Kids is an educational enrichment program teaching Oak Park school kids about the African diaspora through traditional West African and Caribbean dance and music. One of Kuumba Kids’ littlest members showed off her skills Saturday – 6-and-a-half-year-old Anika Rigaud. A kindergartener at Lincoln Elementary School, Rigaud told Wednesday Journal she was originally nervous to join Kuumba Kids but is excited to do it again next year. 

Rigaud came to “Move with the Mayor” with her parents, her little sister and her grandmother. Her little sister, tired from an earlier swimming lesson, preferred to hang out under the shade of a tree, but not Rigaud. Her favorite part was the freestyle twisting at the end of “manjani.”

After practicing the choreographed dance a number of times, the group formed a large circle, known as a “bantaba,” according to Callender. Inside the “bantaba,” individuals rotated who took center, while the rest of the group cheered from the sidelines.

“Everybody gets to come into the circle and just do their own freestyle dance moves; how ever they want to move to the wonderful rhythms of the drum,” said Callender. 

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