If the MIST Harlem pre-opening event last night was any indication of the quality of program to expect when the venue is fully up and live – there is only one thing to say – wow!

The pre-opening event last night was an inspiring revelation on the impact that can we achieve through the innovative combination of art/culture/economic empowerment and community development. I was blown away on so many levels I simply have to list them!

  1. The content of the documentary: The story is incredible in the divides that are crossed – the creation of Ingoma Nshya women’s drumming circle in modern Rwanda. An incredible story in itself as it documents a group that bridges Rwanda’s painful history of genocide by bringing together Hutu and Tutsi women who touchingly work in close harmony. If that were not enough, the group breaks another boundary by being a women’s group in a culture where drumming is traditionally the domain of men. And still further, in addition to art, the women form a way to build an economic livelihood for themselves, their families and the community by bringing an “ice cream” shop for the first time to a small Rwandan town! The ice cream shop once up and running is transitioned to cooperative ownership by 30 of the women. When the documentary screen closes and then representatives of the group walked into the hall at MIST Harlem, that in of itself could move the most stoic of us to hold their hearts.

2. The live performance: Not only were we treated to a powerful performance by the drumming group, Ingoma Nshya, but we were also enjoyed a performance by a Harlem based women’s drumming group, Alacande. After both groups performed separately we were then treated to an unrehearsed improvisation session when both women’s drumming circles jammed together on the spot on stage.  Amazing to watch the cultural conversation – the diaspora in full force and effect!

3. The ongoing engagement: With closing remarks done with MIST Harlem’s CEO Roland Laird and other key organizers, we were left with a powerful take away. If you want to not only to support the women drummers of Rwanda, but the broader community, then support their economy by buying their coffee. Under the auspices of the work of Grace Hightower and Coffees of Rwanda, an important economic lifeline has been created to rebuild the post conflict economy with revenues from the development of a coffee sector, with local coffee cultivation and roasting connected directly to branded international marketing.

I happily had a tasting of coffee on the way out, bought a bag of Grace Hightower and Coffees of Rwanda expresso blend, and left on a high in anticipation of what is yet to come at MIST Harlem!