September has been a super busy month at Griot Arts as we officially kicked off our two programs: Griot Youth Program and Mint Griot! Mint Griot, our newest program for fourth through sixth graders, is going exceptionally well and we couldn’t be more pleased. The GYP students who are part of the Meraki Artisan courses have been such a wonderful help with our Mint students as they have taken on roles of leadership through tutoring and concessions in Griot’s newest addition of The Griot Cafe! We are so excited to have a space were our students of all ages and their siblings can come and bond over their love of the arts. As the month comes to an end, we can’t wait to see what big things God has in store for Griot Arts in October! 

A Hard Day's Work Paid Off: Griot Youth Program’s Summer Arts Intensive 2016

As the summer quickly draws to an end, we have a lot of new and exciting things going on at Griot. For the past two months, Griot provided students within the Clarksdale community an opportunity to take part in its new Summer Arts Intensive Program. Since this program at Griot was new and my position began on the week it was ending, I was very curious to find out what made this summer program different than the ones before. In previous summers, Griot Youth Program has always offered a week long arts program for the students, but this year the program lasted a month. During July and the first week of August, any Clarksdale student could sign-up for a variety of intensive art class to hone their skills. The classes offered included vocals, ensemble, folk band, and theater.  Each class concluded with a performance at the new Cultural Arts Center where ticket sales were split between the student performers.  Students were thrilled to have performance and work opportunities!

This summer was also the kick-off for the new Meraki Artisan Collective program, Meraki paired with artisans around the community to create a program for those students interested in learning more about creating exceptional art to sell for a profit. In June, the students had the opportunity to take cooking and craft classes. The craft classes continued into July, and woodworking classes were also available. Through this program, the students were able to work under master artists and learn how to make quality products! We have been so lucky to have such wonderful instructors including, William Kozielski, Colleen Zamm, Maxene Harlow, and other community members who want to take part in our student’s lives. Through the creation of our new store on Etsy, the Clarksdale Farmer’s Market, and the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center, the students had the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in creating and selling their own products for which they received 60% of the profits while the other 40% goes directly back into Griot to buy supplies and keep the program running!

When they weren’t cooking, crafting, or woodworking, the students at Griot were tirelessly preparing for their end of the summer recital and play. On August 3rd,  we finally had the exciting opportunity to see just exactly what these talented individuals and their instructors have been working on. As a part of the Summer Arts Intensive program, students within the community were able to spend time in small groups with musical instructors Josue Atibalentja, PJ Walker and David Dunavent. With different musical backgrounds, the instructors were able to provide the students with lessons on vocals, drums, guitar, bass, and violin. By the time the recital rolled around, we had seven talented students that performed Wednesday evening at the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center. Sitting in the audience you couldn’t help but smile, sing, and dance along to the music the students were performing. Jesus was there radiating through them and it was contagious - especially with Byron Bays.

We cannot begin to say enough kind things about the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center and their new Director Chandra Williams. One of Clarksdale’s newest venues, located in the heart of downtown, the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center couldn’t be more perfect for our students here at Griot. It provides the students with a positive, beautiful and encouraging atmosphere, which makes it a wonderful and inviting place where students are always welcome to do what they love: perform.

My first crazy week at Griot came to a wonderful end with the weekend performance of the play You Can’t Take it With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It was the last week of practice, and the students were rehearsing for hours everyday with their passionate director Erik
Allgood. Going into the play Friday night I’m not sure what I expected, I knew it would be good, but it was more than good- it was AMAZING. We were so blessed to have a great turnout and cannot thank the community enough. The students had worked so hard perfecting their lines and queues, and it couldn’t have been better; they were absolutely hilarious. Jesus truly blessed us. With the summer recital and play, the students could now perform and showcase their hard work, on a much larger scale and at a larger venue than in past summer programs.

While everyday at Griot is great, it’s especially great when we have our graduates return wanting to spend their summer helping out as interns. From the Griot class of 2015, Valenica Metcalf and Christopher McClenton spent Mondays in June helping teach our fun third annual Junior Griot Camp for elementary students. During this time, students in grades 2 through 4 had the opportunity to take part in dance, art, and music classes. We are also so grateful for the city of Clarksdale, without whose partnership, we wouldn’t have had the ability to pay our 16 through 21 year old high school and graduated students for all their hard work on the summer play and in the Griot building!

In just one week it has been so amazing to see how God is working within Griot, specifically through our older high school and graduated students. A long day's work is all worth it as we see our older Griot students evolve as leaders through their relationship with Christ and service to our community!

Caroline Malatesta -Griot Intern

Fall Feast for the Arts: Griot Fall Fundraiser

As we reflected on the mission of Griot Arts and planned for our annual Fall Fundraiser, we wanted to bring wonderful art, music, and food to our community while giving more people an opportunity to meet our amazing students and learn about what God is doing at Griot.  We didn’t just want to have a fundraiser, we wanted to bless and encourage our community with a magical night and inspire them through seeing our amazing teenagers “create some good” in Clarksdale and not only “be the change”, but start to lead the change.  God answered that prayer abundantly with perfect weather, talented chefs, faithful volunteers, and performances from our amazing Griot students. Our first ever “Fall Feast for the Arts” was a wonderful evening as well as a successful fundraiser and we cannot say thank you enough to all of the people in this community that support us!

Thursday October 22nd, over 100 people gathered on the patio behind Oxbow Restaurant in downtown Clarksdale for a culinary delight along with great entertainment and encouraging conversation with griot parents, staff, students, and supporters. Guests were greeted by tables draped in white tablecloths and topped with fall vegetables, flickering candles and garlands of greenery, all bearing the signature touch of floral designer Erica Hall. In addition, the Oxbow Guesthouse held 18 fabulous items for the silent auction! Regional artists donated many forms of art including original paintings, amazing prints, impressive drawings, fantastic photography and one of a kind hand thrown pottery. Treats to purchase included a crawfish boil, hand-made macaroons, hand-made Kahlua Fudge from the Delta, and a basket overflowing with wonderful goodies from Heaton Pecans. Other auction items included a copy of a recently released historical art history novel, a handmade coffee table, oriental rugs, one week vacations at a condo in Florida, and a getaway to the fantastic Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood! Griot students walked around with trays of appetizers they had made in cooking class, and helped to serve the gourmet meal with elegance and professionalism.

Griot Youth Program’s Mission is to create a community of students who are actively engaged in making their community a better place through the arts and community service. We do this through excellent teaching in various arts mediums, and emphasis on academics, and a thriving mentoring program. Our students have grown as artists, people, and leaders. Griot students delighted the crowd with original songs, Griot Folk Band and Rock Band performances and original poetry.

Dinner was a collaboration with Chef Hayden Hall of Oxbow, Chef Alan Johnson of Rust and Chef Meri Tehnet of Yazoo Pass. Johnson's fall salad of fresh, crisp mixed greens with toasted Indianola, MS pecans, crisp apples and goat cheese tossed with Holden's Fire Lake Balsamic Vinaigrette was the first course. Chef Hayden's beef and pork polpette, brown butter braised brussel sprouts with percorina and cremini mushroom over ragout creamy polenta was a delight to the palate! Chef & Meri's finale to the gourmet farm to table dinner was the diners' choice of Mascarpone gingerbread torte, pumpkin tartes with chantilly cream or cocoon cookies with Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream!

The event raised $20,000 for Griot. Funds are used to pay teachers and staff, provide supplies for the classes and to provide space for the program. Volunteers from across the community assist Griot as tutors, teachers, mentors, and by providing snacks every day for 25 hungry junior high and high school age students! 

Cali Larson Noland is founder and Executive Director of Griot and Emily Wisseman is the Youth Program Director.  Griot is a 501 (c)(3) not for profit charitable organization registered in the state of Mississippi. A volunteer 13-member board of directors provide guidance and direction for the staff. All donations are tax deductible. If you were not able to attend "Fall Feast for the Arts" you may make a difference in the lives of students with a contribution to Griot by mail, online at and in person at 278 Sunflower Street is downtown Clarksdale.

An enormous thank you is just not enough to express our sincere appreciation to all of our supporters, our helpers and our believers! Each of you touch Griot in your own unique way and make a contribution to the success of our program and we thank God each day for every one of you!

New Leaders Step-Up at Griot

As we start up our fifth year of Griot, there are a lot of new faces and some old ones in new roles. It is bittersweet to watch the students you love spread their wings and move on; we are so proud of them and excited for their future, but miss their smiling faces and unique personalities. 

All six of our graduated seniors from last year are in college or working full-time, but have found ways to stop by the building to say hello.  Two of our first group of student leaders graduated and have moved on to new roles in the community, leaving space for two new student leaders. We love seeing familiar faces in new roles! Valencia Metcalf is now in college at CCC and working for Quapaw Canoe Company.  We are so delighted to see her move from student to teacher for our river arts classes.  Chris Riley is working full-time for the animal shelter and volunteering as an assistant to Griot dance classes.

Our new student leaders, Jasmine and NaMonte, have already shown themselves to be up to the task as we started off the year with leadership training and bible study with our returning leaders T’Keyah and Noah.  The student leaders helped to set the tone for a great 5th year at Griot as they made our 10 new students feel welcome and helped to lead art projects and team building activities during orientation last week.  Our building continues to become an even more creative and welcoming space as we add student art to our walls and spaces.  

I am so excited to see how God is going to continue to equip and grow our Griot students into amazing leaders in their communities that will give back through the arts, community service, and their daily example. Stop by our building on Sunflower and check-out what we do after school!

~ Emily Wisseman, Griot Youth Program Director

When The Clouds Cry…

When the clouds cry
Their tears fall on my head
Not filling me with gloom
But making me reach to the sky instead
I love it when the rainbow peeks
Filling me up with even more glee
I feel the rush of adrenalin
pulsing through my veins
I now realize
that my glee is ignited by fresh rain
~ Jan’Nise Thomas: Griot Youth Program, 7th grade

H. Gillespie : Griot Volunteer Profile

Mr. Gillespie is an art teacher at W.A. Higgins Middle School who tutors and leads group reading here at the Griot Youth Program on Wednesdays and Thursday.  He is a native of Holly Springs originally, but now lives in Clarksdale, both of which are in the state of Mississippi.

He first started visiting the Griot Youth Program after hearing about us from colleagues, and came to investigate.  What he found was that even though he works with students all day, being with the youth in the Griot environment was a relaxing change in pace.  Mr. Gillespie, being inspired by this says that he now “tries to adopt the culture from here to school”.  This attitude is consistent with the philosophy of Griot where students are constantly encouraged to create positive culture instead of just absorbing the negative culture around them.

Among the things Mr. Gillespie likes about this program is how it tries to develop the whole person, addressing the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and the real world situation of the students, while providing them with a space where they can be themselves.

Mr. Gillespie says that when he’s older, he hopes to be able to bring a program like Griot back to Holly Springs, where he will also continue to develop and enjoy his passion for fishing, photography, and riding Harley Motorcycles.  Until then, Mr. Gillespie continues to be an invaluable member of the many volunteers at Griot just by his consistent presence. If you see him out and about in Clarksdale, give him a high five for all the good he creates here!

~ By Byron Bays : Student Intern at the Griot Youth Program

You Inspire Me

On Thursday, November 13th, I had the amazing opportunity of serving and performing during Griot’s second Benefit Concert.  It was such a wonderful experience and as I look back at the very first one we did last year, I can’t help but to marvel at how much we have grown and reached out into our community.  There were so many people who came out to support us, and it was such blessing to know how much people actually care about what we are doing with this program. 

My Griot mates and I were extremely touched by the surrounding community businesses such as Beauty Mart and Oxbow, who helped us sell tickets, as well as businesses  such as Yazoo Pass, Coahoma County Tourism, Krosstown Package Store, and others who donated food and beverages that were served during this event.

As for myself, my favorite part of the benefit was definitely the student performances. I was touched by the poetry read by John Harris and the ensemble’s performance of Wild Horses, but the performance that really hit home was my own. It was my very first time performing my new original song, Surrender, which is the first worship inspired song that I have written.  

When I wrote this song I said I wanted people to feel something, and that night they did.  I sang and played the song, along with my singing partner Chris McClenton, with everything I had in me.  When I finished, I noticed that there were people crying and smiling, and I realized that I had accomplished just that.  I realized that what we have been doing through Griot is not just about our talent, but it is about our ability as young people to be vessels through God to influence.

With so much going on in the world, it is refreshing to know that the vision to “create some good” is still alive. So at this time I want to thank everyone who helped to make this event such a success and everyone who helps Griot be successful everyday.  You inspire me to do more.

~ T'keyah Burnett - Student, Singer, Song Writer