May 5, 2017


Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos  
It’s the beat of the drum that signals the start of the
annual IPS/IEA Multicultural Festival each year. But it’s the colorful tapestry
of performances and student-based exhibits, celebrating the history and culture
of people from different lands, that continues to draw crowds.


From Mexican folk dances to African storytelling to an
eight-piece Chinese orchestra, the festival reveals the growth of the city’s
cultural landscape and shines a spotlight on how IPS schools are embracing
diversity in our classrooms.


“We know a lot of times, especially these days, that
people really don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures,
and there may be some phobias associated with different (ones),” said Khabir
“The Storyteller” Shareef
. “So, the festival is a good opportunity for
the youth and adults to see how other people relate to and express their
culture.”Khabir The Storyteller


It’s Khabir’s hands that stroke the drum each year — a
role he cherishes because of the significance. He’s ready to take his queue
again at the 31st Annual Multicultural Festival on Saturday, May 20, 2017, from
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lafayette Square Mall.


“I do what is called a drum call, which in many cultures is
a way of calling people to join together in one central location,” said Khabir,
who has been performing at the annual festival for about eight years. He’s been
telling stories, and drumming, for more than 30 years.


Once the audience has been gathered, Khabir will share one
of the many folk tales he’s known for throughout the city. Which one, however, is
even a mystery to him. “I always play that part by ear depending on who’s in
the audience. It will be primarily African, but will have universal appeal so
people of different cultures can relate to it.”


This year’s Multicultural Festival will feature
participation from about 25 IPS schools and 15 community cultural groups who
will present 15-minute performances and display cultural exhibits throughout
the day.


Behind the scenes — putting it all together since the
beginning — is Pat Payne, a longtime IPS educator and employee who currently heads
the district’s Racial Equity
. Payne helped start the festival while serving as president of
the Indianapolis Education Association.


“We wanted to do something with the community that stressed the
importance of diversity and working together,” said Payne. “We started with a
few exhibits, but it kept growing, and now we have so many schools and
community cultural groups that want to be a part of it.”


One of those groups is Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos
Indianapolis, which performs Mexican folk dances from throughout the country.
This will be the group’s seventh year at the festival.


“The purpose of the group is to maintain, conserve, teach
and share Mexican culture through dance with the audiences it which it comes in
contact, but number one is to educate,” said Pam Gemmer, a longtime member of
the all-volunteer, multigenerational dance group. “We try to support as many
educational institutions and school activities as possible.”


Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos is always a hit at the festival
because of the infectious Latin beats, traditional dances and colorful
costumes. They also never perform the same show each year. The group performs
traditional dances from many different states throughout Mexico.


“We’re always learning new dances, which is one of the
things that keeps people coming back because it’s not always the same thing,”
said Gemmer. “Our costumes for every state dance are authentic.”


The group’s shows also include an audience participation segment,
which receives lots of requests to perform traditional dances from Jalisco and
Veracruz — mainly because of the beat of the music from both areas.


It’s this open display of different cultures — the history,
customs and traditions — that helps to make the IPS/IEA Multicultural Festival
popular year after year.


“People in the audience and those walking through the
(exhibits) get a much greater sense of the multicultural reality of
Indianapolis. African, Indian, Middle Eastern … it helps us all to realize the
richness of the diversity in our community, and that definitely enriches my
life as an individual, said Gemmer. “Our different cultures have a lot to offer
… if we open our eyes and embrace what they have to offer and take part and
enjoy their enthusiasm to share with us.”


Payne enjoys watching people from different cultures,
religions, generations and socio-economic backgrounds talking and learning from
one another.