“I’m called to love.”
Kelly finds inspiration for her leadership through the interconnection of faith and words: “Words have power. We use our words to bless and lift up. We use our words to lift up and encourage and inspire each other. That’s what faith is.” Kelly uses her words to spread love and inspiration to all who are lucky enough to cross her path.
Her parents are from Suriname, so she is a first generation American, which influenced her understanding of the world. While still a young girl, Kelly realized that in America “skin complexion is a huge thing.” She had to learn what it means to be a person of color and how to survive the racist acts and words surrounding her. This combination of racial tension and being “first gen American made growing up tough.” A pivotal experience in her childhood was watching her parents’ kindness and caring of two elderly neighbors who became Kelly’s “adopted grandparents in America.” The kindness bestowed by her parents was returned upon the death of her neighbors who bequeathed their estate to Kelly’s family. This act helped the family to move to a better neighborhood and allowed Kelly to enroll in violin classes, which would change the trajectory of her future.
Kelly fell in love with playing the violin. She also studied Dance and Theatre at the Manhattan School of Music. She played violin in several orchestras around New York City. Kelly would also play for fun “on the streets,” where a chance encounter with a talent agent again shifted the direction of Kelly’s life. She began acting and “ended up doing 75 national and regional commercials,” as well as making appearances on Sesame Street and All My Children. During this time, she also studied dance, which has shaped her life in Michiana in ways she never anticipated while studying it. As much as Kelly loved acting, she went back to school to earn a degree that would allow her to take care of her daughter.
Kelly originally came to the Michiana area in 2003 to host a live television show for LeSea Broadcasting. She currently works at WNIT where she continues to host Experience Michiana. Hosting Experience Michiana has enabled Kelly to get to know the community better. As Kelly continued to travel in and around Michiana, she realized there were no African dance opportunities here. To help fill this need, Kelly founded the UZIMA! Dance Troupe, which blends traditional West African and Afro-Contemporary dance, songs, and spoken word.
UZIMA! is a Swahili word meaning “celebration of wholeness, health, and life.” Her goal with UZIMA! is to create a space “where people can come on the journey.” As Kelly explains, “it is more than dance. It is a way to experience life because we all want to experience life.” Kelly encourages anyone and everyone to join the troupe -- “all ages, all body types, all sorts of people.” Kelly’s goal is to bring together wholeness and the arts, “What can wholeness look like in a community through the arts? How can we celebrate that?”
The group’s reach continues to expand. They perform in various community spaces, including at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. Through UZIMA! Kelly spreads her calling to love while also helping everyone to learn from each other.
Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc
Kelly was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.