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Sat, Feb 11


Mills College at Northeastern University

Roots of Faith

An Offering of Sacred Song and Movement Living Links Between African and African American Spiritual Traditions Featuring Awon Ohun Omnira ( Voices Of Freedom)

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Roots of Faith
Roots of Faith

Time & Location

Feb 11, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Mills College at Northeastern University, 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94613, USA

About the event

Roots of Faith:" An Offering of Sacred Song and Movement.

The Living Links Between African and African American Spiritual Traditions, featuring Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom)

Sat Feb 11: 9:30am Check-In & Refreshments | 10am Program Start

Registration Required:

Join Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom) for this two-part special circle/ceremonia of ancestral reverence. Led by AOO musical/artistic director Tobaji Stewart, the 9-member crew will sing “Oro Egun,” ancient chants for the ancestors drawn from the Yoruba tradition of Africa/Cuba that is accompanied by sacred Bata drums.

Oro Egun will be followed by a demonstration of the Ring Shout, an African American cultural expression that was common throughout the South until the 1950s. Awon Ohun Omnira’s presentation of the Ring Shout is modeled after the McIntosh County Shouters, who currently reside near Savannah, Ga., and who have upheld the cultural/spiritual practice continually since the 1800s.

Our Roots of Faith event is the first of 3 circles in the series produced by Casa Tia Luna, Roots of Resilience: Ensuring Strong Health and Spiritual Nourishment in a Rapidly Changing Climate and Society.

Roots of Resilience: Ensuring Strong Health and Spiritual Nourishment in a Rapidly Changing Climate and Society: African Americans, Afro-Indigenous, Indigenous peoples -- all those who suffered enslavement, removal, genocide and land loss at the hands of european colonization on Turtle Island (aka the Americas) survived because of their strong faith and powerful healing tradition. We celebrate this survival, and share medicinal healing practices in the past, present and what we need in the future to continue to THRIVE and SURVIVE in a rapidly changing climate and society.

Three Saturdays in the month of February, March and April we will present informative, engaging and interactive workshops that explore this topic and various tools for:

navigating and thriving in our holistic health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual)

ancestor communication and acknowledgement

grounding/balancing our connection with Mother Earth, the elements and other sentient beings and more will be highlighted.

This is a gathering of family.

Art, Movement, Dance, Song, Altar building, and storytelling will be the web we weave like Anansi the Spider and SpiderWoman to secure our surviv-ability and legacy for future generations.

This series is hosted by:

Michele Elizabeth Lee, Author of Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing; Artist, Educator, Curator, Historian.

Iya Awujo Dvina Estrella Ramey,

Traditional Performing Artist, Counselor, Herbalist, Ceremonialist, Educator

Founder of

Water and Honey Community Well Inc.

Sistas In Service International

(a wellness program of Water & Honey)

Incense Gurl Handcrafted Fragrant Wares

Registration: Please Note, this circle will be a hybrid circle with a limited number of in-person seats along with Zoom participation as well. Please indicate your choice during registration.

Registration for Mills College Community: Thanks to cosponsorship by Mills College at Northeastern University, Mills Community Tickets are available for free IF YOU REGISTER WITH YOUR CURRENT NORTHEASTERN EMAIL ADDRESS.

Registration by Donation: This circle featuring Awon Ohun Omnira and Maestra Michele Elizabeth Lee is offered via donation-based registration, suggested at $60.

We ask everyone to offer what you can so CTL can continue to make these kinds of important discussions and reflections on our ancestral teachings available in our BIPOC communities in the Bay Area and beyond.

We always offer a limited number of reduced tickets for anyone who cannot pay the suggested donation. This requires only that you contact us directly at least 3 days prior to the circle at, so we can discuss how we can make this happen with a donation/offering and/or trueque/barter that's possible for you. Please offer what you can, including assistance in all the work that goes into our circles, such as flyer design and distribution, social media help, administrative and day of setup/cleanup work, etc. We also accept medicine offerings as part of your offering.

Giving Back to Healing Communities: As part of Casa Tia Luna's commitment to community-based learning/knowledge sharing, 15% of all revenue for each of our workshops/circles goes back to Indigenous and BIPOC communities and those doing healing work there. For this upcoming circle, we will gift this portion to The Omnira Institute, these amazing cultural workers and tradition keepers dedicated to preserving and extending the threads of sacred knowledge, music, and practices from West Africa to the Americas. Omnira (Freedom) Institute, formerly known as NouvO'risha Institute, began in 2003 as a school for sacred knowledge for children of practitioners of spiritual traditions derived from West Africa by way of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. It began publicly presenting Black history through song in 2008, with a Juneteenth commemoration at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, Black History Month presentations at colleges, churches and centers in 2009; the Oakland Black-Eyed Pea Festival, which celebrates African American Traditional Culture through Food, Art, and Music in 2014; and in 2016, started the African American Day of the Ancestors on Nov. 1, once known as ‘Grave-Sweeping Day,’ which, in concept, parallels the Latino ‘Day of the Dead.’ All of these events are now held annually. See


Casa Tía Luna (CTL) is an Indigenous ancestral healing space founded by Indigenous women in 2020 for where medicine carriers/ practitioners are invited to make their offerings available for our BIPOC communities here in the Bay Area. If you are interested in workshops or trainings for your organization or community, or if you have any questions about Casa Tia Luna, please contact us at

Wanda Ravernell, Executive Director of Omnira Institute: A cultural expert, Ravernell is Omnira Institute’s executive director, primary fundraiser, booking manager, program developer, publicist and visionary. After retiring from a 20-year career in print journalism, she embarked on creating programming that would lead to the creation of Omnira Institute in 2009. As its director, Ravernell has developed and implemented the program known as ‘Roots of Faith/Roots of Freedom,’ under the artistic direction of her husband, Tobaji (Dennis) Stewart. Using his ritual knowledge and expertise in the sacred Bata drums, ancient chants in Yoruba, and the African American tradition of the Ring Shout, he has trained a small choir, called Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom) which serves to reacquaint the African American community and the public at large a renewed sense of the value of the culture their ancestors. Their annual cycle includes Black History Month presentations at churches and public spaces; a Juneteenth Ritual of Remembrance, which focuses on the prayer pathways of the formerly enslaved; a celebration of African American traditional music, food and art at the Black-Eyed Pea Festival in September, and the revival of ‘Grave-Sweeping Day’ called the African American Day of the Ancestors on the first weekend in November, which parallels the Latino “Day of the Dead.”

(Dennis) Tobaji Stewart, Omnira Institute Artistic Director and Knowledge Creator: At 14, Stewart discovered percussion and it has been a lifelong passion for him. He has played in bands of all kinds, ranging from salsa to Latin jazz, R&B and his own early funk/jazz band Juju in the 1970s. Beginning in 1972, Stewart played the Bata drums in Lucumi ceremonies in Northern and Southern California. His students have since become renowned in their own right: John Santos, David Frazier, Yagbe Onilu, Ron Rico (who plays for the band Santana) and the late (Mozell) Zeke Neely. In the 1990s, Stewart toured with the S.F. Mime Troupe, which went to New York, the Southern U.S. and England and Germany. He also toured the U.S. with the Oakland Youth Chorus. His Bata battery is comprised of himself and several of his current and former protégés Calvin Holmes, David Frazier, Alfredo (Sosu) Randolph and Douglas Stewart. In 2010, he became Musical Director for Omnira Institute’s performing arm, Awon Ohun Omnira. Inspired by a documentary about the Georgia Sea Island Singers, he went on to further research the tradition known as the Ring-Shout. Seeing the link between those rhythms and what he knows of many other African-derived percussion styles, he quickly began to learn them, and added them to the repertoire of the choir. To further his expertise, in the fall of 2013 he received a grant from Alliance for California Traditional Arts to go to Georgia to meet the McIntosh County Shouters, a family group that has kept up the practice of shouting for 200 years. In 2013, he received an ACTA grant to apprentice to Bata his two sons, Adisa and Ade Stewart. Stewart has led countless workshops on traditional values found in street memorials for transitional aged youth at Oakland’s Health & Human Resource Education Center. He has also led workshops for participants who are part of the re-entry population in the DetermiNation program with United Roots and the Urban Peace Movement. For two years, He and his wife, Wanda Ravernell were co-teachers in ACTA’s Arts in Corrections program at the now-defunct Deuel Vocational Institute near Tracy, Ca. Currently, Stewart continues his lifelong work of making music and teaching the world the beauty of cultural expression through sound.

Iya Awujo Dvina Estrella Ramey,

Awon Ohun Omnira vocalist.

‘Iya Awujo’ means ‘Community Mother’ or Co-Madre in Yoruba.

She is the founder/board chair of

Water & Honey Community Well Inc. a nonprofit entity, and lead Doula, educator, counselor and ceremonial facilitator for its wellness program,

Sistas In Service International.

She is also the founder of Incense Gurl Handcrafted Fragrant Wares established in 1998.

At 43, she is the mother of seven womb born children, a stepson, a daughter-in-love, and a grandbaby, a ranging in age from 30-2.

Her family and lineage hail from North America: New Orleans and all over Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Canada, The Caribbean, Europe, and Africa.

She Identifies as Afro-Indigenous and/or Cajun Creole. Born in Oakland and raised in Berkeley, she currently lives and serves in the Oakland- San Francisco Greater Bay Area of California. She says: “I love to sing, dance, garden, travel, craft, cook for and host family and friends, work with youth, commune with elders, innovate, study history and culture, and I’m generally up for anything I can do to uplift and support my community, while also having fun, especially in nature!”

Michele Elizabeth Lee is a multi-disciplinary Soul who has worked in the creative arts for 40 years as an exhibiting artist, activist, writer, curator, author, historian, cultural anthropologist and educator. She is an Author, Historian, and Cultural Anthropologist. Starting in1996, Ms. Lee documented the practice of Traditional African American healing. Starting with her own family lineage and healers who are from Mississippi, Louisiana and Virgina, Ms. Lee branched out to locate other healers in the south and parts of the eastern seaboard, weaving in and out of several indigenous nations. This journey took her to base herself in the south and live down a dirt road in rural North Carolina for 4 years. She sought out other healers throughout the south/southeast by word of mouth and often traversed through the backwoods with them looking for medicine plants. Ms. Lee apprenticed with several of the elders who shared their practice and knowledge with her. Her book, Working The Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing is the culmination of this sojourn! She is chair of Art Against Apartheid for the SF Bay Area, and Cofounder and Executive Director of Wadastick Artists and Scholars Residency and Cultural Center. Currently she works with a variety of afro-indigenous efforts t o affirm and reclaim cultural identity, repair and correct historical inaccuracies and restore self determination and pride in the individual and greater community. In 1998, Ms. Lee co-founded Wadastick Artists and Scholars Residency and Cultural Center in rural North Carolina.

The residency hosted artists from across the country and had sites at the Tuscarora Indian Nation, St. Helena Sea Island, South Carolina, in the heart of the Gullah culture and in, El Potrero, Mexico, a small clay-building village. Wadastick ran successfully for six years.

Our Casa Tia Luna Spring 2023 Offerings from our CTL community of maestras, including Michele Elizabeth Lee (Author of Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing), Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom, from the Omnira Institute), Maestra Veronica Iglesias (The Jade Oracle), Iya Awujo Davina D. Estrella Ramey (Founder, Water and Honey Community Well Inc. ), and the Wakan Wiya Two Spirit Drum with drumkeeper Zamora are all listed at

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