Returning to the Love: Building Self and Community At and After ROOTS Weekend-Dallas

Photo: Melisa Cardona

Leticia Contreras | December 14, 2016

The seeds that we have planted have come to harvest. As the brisk air of North Texas reminded us that a new season has come, we celebrated and harvested our creative acts of resistance together in Dallas. The land of the Caddo, Witchita, Tuacana, Neches, Yscanis, Quiscata, and many other first nations is known more for its big hair and petro-biz billionaires than its thriving cultural arts communities. The people that are cultivating and caring for these cultural meccas possess beauty and resilience only a flor de nopal growing in the Chihuahuan Desert in July could understand; you better hold on to that sweet morning dew cause this scorched earth will constantly try to dry you up and turn you into dust.

In a state like Texas one of our biggest challenges when it comes to citywide and statewide work is creating the sense of density in a sprawled space. It is easy to forget that there are people in your own county or city who are building resources, creating tools, and cultivating communities in frequencies that you can also vibe with. We’re often silenced, deafened, and discouraged by the hateful rhetoric that dominates the airwaves and political platforms of our ultra conservative state reps.  

Participants in Andrea Arroyo’s workshop create art that will become part of the Tribute to the Disappeared exhibition. Photo: Melisa Cardona.

Participants in Andrea Arroyo’s workshop create art that will become part of the Tribute to the Disappeared exhibition. Photo: Melisa Cardona.

The way that Alternate ROOTS family finds each other is when you’ve finally realized that the world is playing on this cosmic rhythm, but there is no reason for you to passively ride those waves because you too can be a mix-master of the world around you. I had the privilege of experiencing my first and only ROOTS Week in Arden, North Carolina in 2012. While living at The Highlander Center in Tennessee, my mentor Tufara Waller Muhammad insisted I cross those smoky mountains with her to Arden, NC. That’s when I learned that we could move our own mountains with the power of voice, praise, expression, dialogue, collective compassion, and grounding rooted in love.

I heard through the grapevine that the ROOTS family was hosting weekend-long intensives in cities across The South. The climate in Texas feels like it is constantly on fire, both literally and metaphorically. With the weeks leading up to the election having us all on the edge of our seats, especially for the cultural workers trying to counteract the current xenophobic and racist attacks, I knew that Dallas ROOTS Weekend would be a prime time to cooldown and collectively strategize our moves following the election period.

We spent the first day getting to know some of the cultural and community-based work that is happening in and around the city. In a city that is sprawled by freeways and strip malls it can feel like a daunting task to create a sense of density and space for collaboration. Organizations and places like The South Dallas Cultural Center, Trans.Lation, Oak Cliff Community Center, The Meet Shop, Ash Ln. Gallery, and The Pan-African Connection are sending out vibrations of love and resilience that is calling on the people who need cultural spaces like these to survive, thrive, and keep hope alive. The Meet Shop just opened its doors four months ago; back in the day Ash Ln. Gallery was the mechanic and metal shop of the co-founder’s father; and since opening its doors over two decades ago, Pan-African Connection has moved locations three times but continues to be a key cultural space. Everyone who has kept these places alive is driven by a devotion to creating family or a sense of family, to centering the stories and lives of people who are often pushed to the margins, and is moved by a deep love for land/home and the connections folks have to place/space.


Akwete Tyehimba, owner of the Pan African Connection in Dallas, welcomes ROOTS Weekend participants to this community space. Photo: Melisa Cardona.

After contextualizing the city around us, we flowed into the rest of the weekend with a greater understanding of why culture, art, and creative expression is urgently needed. The songs we were singing, the poetry we were writing, the praises we were dancing, and the litany of expression we were practicing was a way for us to connect and learn from one another while also healing ourselves and the generations before us. The ROOTS Weekend theme of vibrant communities did not go unwarranted; Dallas, Texas, the South, and the Global South is pulsating with resiliency and creativity. We’re literally standing on the Texas-sized shoulders of our ancestors.

As we held hands and formed our final circle in the SMU School of Arts atrium on Sunday afternoon, I started to get really sad knowing that we were all going our separate ways. Sometimes it feels very lonely being a creative person who wears their heart on their sleeve in a world that wants you to hide your sensitivities. I had to remind myself that despite the distance, we are constantly going to be connected because the tools, knowledge, and wisdom that we were sharing with one another were things that we were embodying; you can’t take away the metaphysical. Just like physics, even the smallest unit isn’t individual – it is made up of light and sound constantly vibrating off of one another in order to survive, to keep moving, to keep the revolutions spinning. As I gave my strong hugs and sweet kisses goodbye, I knew that the energies we were transmitting into the world were going to keep us in motion and keep us connected. As my mentor Tufara taught me to sing: we are solid as a rock, we are rooted like a tree, we are here standing strong in our rightful place.


20150924_094007Leticia Contreras is a queer, afro-xicana, interdisciplinary artivista from Houston, Tejas. She hopes that her work inspires people to find love and light even in the most challenging moments. When she’s not navigating graduate schools and the woes of academia, she likes collaborating with other creative folks through dance, performance, food, and cariño. You can find some of her work at

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Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.