Adekola Adedapo’s mother raised her to leave a place better than she found it. While she may have meant for her daughter to be a good house guest, Adedapo has applied the sage advice with a global perspective. After all, Adedapo is an Alverno alumna and the program coordinator of the Cultural Education Center on campus.
Adedapo’s Alverno voicemail greets callers with a Yoruba word meaning peace. For Adedapo – who was born in Chicago, raised in Michigan and spent most of her adult life either in Milwaukee or Chicago – strongly identifies with her spiritual roots. “I don’t know where my African roots begin, but I strongly connect with Western Africa. My spiritual exploration begins in Nigeria. It’s my Mecca.”
Adedapo arrived at the doors of Alverno after a passage through parenthood. As an education assistant with Milwaukee Public Schools, she made a promise that she would return to college when the last of her three children graduated from high school. “I had always heard good things about Alverno. They know how to educate women.” She made good on the promise she made to herself and, in 2010, she graduated with a degree in Community Leadership and Development.
As an alumna, she joined MASTE, a mentoring group, at Alverno, but her true passion was to re-establish the “Bestowing of the Kente.” The Kente ceremony gives women of African descent a spiritual connection to an ancestral home, but a leadership change caused the ceremony that takes place post-graduation to go on a hiatus, of sorts, for three semesters. Adedapo missed her opportunity to receive a multi-colored Kente shawl because her graduation fell during the three-semester void.
As heritage and ancestral roots were lost through slavery, the Kente ceremony makes a spiritual connection on many levels, Adedapo said. For Alverno students, the Kente ceremony is a powerful and meaningful journey. With African chants, drumming, speakers and celebratory reception, it marks a passage, of sorts. “We also give thanks for those who came before us. It’s a great day,” Adedapo said.
In 2011, as part of her commitment to the Cultural Education Center, Adedapo re-established the ceremony that was originally started by Caryl Davis and Sherlyn Brown in 1994. The irony was not lost on Adedapo that the Kente ceremony, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of African tradition, was temporarily lost as an Alverno tradition.
Kente is a Fante West African word meaning ‘basket’. Adedapo chose an Adinkra symbol to represent social and spiritual relevance of the ceremony. “It means ‘unity in diversity’,” she said. In 17 years, 500 Alverno women of African descent have gone through the ceremony.
And in May 2012, Adedapo received her shawl in the “Bestowing of the Kente.” Currently, she is in a master’s program working toward a degree in Adult Education and Instructional Design at Alverno. “I love to learn. Education makes me more marketable and valuable.”