Donald O’Conner – known to many as the founder/director of Watoto – and his son, Nick, have released a new CD – “Family” – inspired by being at home during the pandemic and reflecting on “how the family unit is the best way to overcome life’s struggles and challenges.”
Families are experiencing struggle all over the world but even through this, they maintain the strength that family connections bring, said O’Conner, adding it’s not limited to just the people we live with.
“Family” can mean different things to different people, including classmates, co-workers, church members, sports teammates.
“Our hopes with this song/video are that (1) the ‘new normal’ becomes one that is family first, whatever you consider to be your family, and (2) that you will enjoy the love, joy and positive power from your family to overcome all challenges that this time and future times may bring,” O’Conner said.
Reflecting on the love that all children have for performing arts activities – and given the rich and historical performing arts culture of African and African- American people, the WatotoAcademy of the Performing Arts was formed, said O’Conner, a Memphian, musician, songwriter, producer and certified music instructor.
The WatotoAcademy uses African and African-American music, songs, dance, stage performance styles, literature and American history as the foundation for its curriculum. O’Conner believed that local urban youth and families needed a program that addressed and reversed deeply-rooted negative patterns of thinking and behavior.
Through the “History on Stage” concert component, a variety of artistic styles, literature and African-American history are used to introduce students to the historical experiences and accomplishments of their ancestors.
Live stage performances give WatotoAcademy youth the “unique experience of singing, dancing and performing their way through their cultural history.” O’Conner said it has improved their self-image, taught them to appreciate their cultural heritage and take an active responsibility in their overall development and success in life.
Drawing on a largely African-American student population, all program graduates have finished high school; many have gone on to college and post-graduate study. Students are instructed to think critically, encouraged to explore/research, motivated to discover their latent talents/abilities and to develop their own path in life.
Recently, O’Conner’s work was credited for a six-percent increase in reading scores and an eight-percent increase in math scores of a group of urban 2nd through 5th grade youth. He now travels throughout the country teaching, lecturing and sharing his WatotoAcademy formula for youth development through the arts via his book “The Ngoma Drum Circle”.
(For more about Donald O’Conner and the WatotoAcademy of the Performing Arts, visit www.watotoacademy.org.)