As a child, I watched my parents build community and speak up for what they
believed in. I saw first hand what education and the power of community does to
build communities and purpose. My mother tells the story about me as child
playing with my dollhouse and seeing me have all of my dolls sitting on couches
in a circle. She asked me, “Zella why are your dolls sitting on couches in a
circle?” I told her at 5 years old, “They are having a meeting.” I was mimicking
what I saw from my parents but I knew that one day I would find my own voice
and passion. Before I became an educator, historian and writer, I was a dancer.
From a very young age, I was classically trained in ballet, Martha Graham and
modern. By fifteen years old I studied at Alvin Ailey in New York City. Although,
my dreams of becoming a professional dancer didn’t realize, I soon learned that
my passion for the culinary arts and history would become my life’s purpose.
Growing up, the kitchen was the heart of our family home. I was always intrigued
by the sounds of pots clanking, the smell of magical spices and rich sauces
simmering on the stove. Food was the tie that brought so many to our table. As I
began to travel the world and trace my own roots, I listened and learned more
from the women who have always been part magic, medicine women, mothers
and chefs in my life. My passion for storytelling, building community and
preserving culture is rooted in my own life experiences. On my father’s side, all of
our family were listed as cooks in the New Orleans 19th century census. There
are no coincidences. I believe what B. Mike, New Orleans artist famously says, “I
Am My Ancestors Wildest Dreams.”
From leadership in higher education, curriculum design and material culture
— I use my passions for storytelling, historic preservation, critical thinking and
unconventional learning for diverse learners and audiences. In my current role as
Chair and Director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-
American Material Culture, my work explores the intersections of education,
material culture and food studies to engage young people and the community. In
my spare time, I write, cook, travel, dance, meditate, spend time with my
amazing children and connect people who are ready to change their frequency
and vibrate higher.
If that sounds like you, lets connect.