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TAHIRA Headshot
TAHIRA. Photo by: Joe Mac Creative

Folk Arts: Oral Literature

By: Gail Obenreder

“As I continue my work, I remain steadfast in my mission to use my voice to empower others to think critically, choose wisely, and believe fervently in their ability to succeed.”

TAHIRA’s three-decade career as a professional storyteller and teaching artist began “unexpectedly, but with a clear intention.” The Masters Fellow was a new mother in 1992 who wanted to give her child “what my late father had given me,” an unapologetic sense of pride for my culture as an African in the Diaspora.” She had previously taken for granted the generational wisdom received from him and “struggled” to recall what the family patriarch had imparted to her.

The Greensboro Four, TAHIRA, 2021


The Starfish Story, TAHIRA, 2021


TAHIRA grew up the sixth of seven children in a four-generation south Philly, where “being loud and a good yarn-spinner was the only way to get attention!” Both parents nurtured her creativity, and “I live each day to honor the love they poured into me.”  When the Philadelphia native took her young daughter to a Kwanzaa event at the city’s Please Touch Museum, they experienced the work of Charlotte Blake Alston, a renowned Black storyteller. That chance meeting led the new mother to embrace her calling, and Alston became one of her mentors.

TAHIRA soon turned her search for family knowledge – “the stories and poetry my father shared with me” – into a more expansive quest, seeking to add to that body of lore and share it with people worldwide. Since she embraced storytelling full time in 1996, her work has taken her to “my neighborhood library . . . around the country . . . and across the seas to walk where my father walked, in Ghana.” In 2015 – thanks to a Division grant – she was able to perform there in a delegation representing the National Association of Black Storytellers, a historic trip that generated press coverage.

The Masters Fellow now appears in a variety of venues, frequently engaged or commissioned by organizations like the Delaware Art Museum (where her work garnered an award from the American Association of Museums) and the Newark Symphony. And in 2022, the City of Wilmington engaged her for a Black Storytelling Residency.

Consistently inspired by her daughter Imani, she’s nonetheless challenged by keeping abreast of “ever-changing trends . . . always on the ready to explain how my work connects to the shifting priorities” of both teaching practices and the needs of 21st century students.

It can be “exhausting” to continue making the case for the importance of her work, and during the pandemic, she worked to acquire the virtual skills to continue her storytelling. But TAHIRA continues to be rewarded in myriad ways, especially by enabling young people to connect to “their creativity, sense of identity, and expression of their voice.” Her work also gratifies her when she can “uplift the experiences of the elders and affirm their place in the community as repositories of wisdom.”

Among her many awards are Philadelphia’s Hometown Hero Award (2022), Delaware Public Media’s Collaboration Award (2021), and New Jersey’s Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service in Arts Education (also in 2021). But TAHIRA finds that “there is something special about receiving this high honor from my home state.” She plans to use Award funds to expand on her work with scholars and to perform a public First State concert. And she will continue to share her talents, having seen “first-hand how my work as a storyteller has impacted people from all walks of life.”

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