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FUNDA FEST 21: Celebration of Black Storytellers

Rhode Island Black Storytellers (RIBS) recently had their 21st Annual Funda Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling which took place from Westerly to Woonsocket, Peace Dale to Providence on January 26 to February 3rd. ILI Fellow Valerie Tutson who is the Creative Director of RIBS and Fund Fest founder wanted a space for storytellers to share, teach and entertain with stories from the African Diaspora.

Funda means “to teach and learn” in Zulu and KiSwahili which for an entire week the festival aims to do with storytelling, cultural experiences, and workshops for all ages to experience.
Funda Fest is a week-long free fun festival that the whole family can experience through concerts, workshops, and cultural arts programming across Rhode Island at these different venues: schools, K-12, community and cultural arts centers, libraries, and theatres.​What inspired Valerie Tutson to create such a wonderful event was when she was working with Johnny Cakes, a storytelling festival in Rhode Island. Valerie loved the festival so much she wanted the community around her to experience a different culturally rooted storytelling festival. When Valerie attend NABS festival, a Black Storytelling Festival, she wanted that same experience in the schools, for the children and others to see high-quality black arts grounded in black traditions. Valerie explained that the name “Funda” was inspired when she was a senior in College she met Gcina Mhlophe, South African storyteller and writer. They became very good friends over the love of storytelling. Valerie took some time off and spent a lot of time in South Africa where she learned the word “Funda” which means to teach and to learn in Zulu. “Because before there were teachers, schools, and library, the storyteller is, was and continues to be the teacher and Funda looks like fun! Which we hope people are experiencing and learning while having fun” as Valerie explains the story behind the naming of Funda.

After 21 years, Valerie has seen the growth of Funda and how this year is different from the others.  RIBS had 43 school programs but after Funda, Valerie and her team received calls all over the state asking for storytellers for events like Black History Month. One of RIBs goals was being a launch pad for storytellers to work in the community beyond the Funda festival which seemed to click this year. “It felt really good” Valerie expressing her gratitude that after a generation later after starting Funda, it finally has turned the corner for the next group of people to value it.