Funda-Mental Storytelling: The esteemed fest celebrates 25 years

Funda is a Zulu word meaning “to learn.” This month, the Rhode Island Black Storytellers (RIBS) are hoping you learn about the art of storytelling in all forms and have fun doing it. Their annual Funda Fest is celebrating its 25th year, as well as their return to live performances, rather than the online version of the festival that they’ve had the last two years. Valerie Tutson, one of the founders of RIBS, said that the online festival had aspects that were good, like being able to invite storytellers from all over, “but it’s nice to have it in person for the 25th anniversary.” They are, however, still offering online options as well.

The theme of the festival this year is “sankofa.” This African word, symbolized by a mythical bird, means “to look back and learn from the past, to assess from the present, and to create and build for the future.” Tutson believes such reflection is important to society. “Every generation has felt the way we feel,” she says, a fact she finds comforting. “This is why we tell stories. Our personal being doesn’t stand on its own. We are folk of the world. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?”

Tutson has been involved in Funda Fest for the full 25 years of its story so far. In that time, she’s seen technology’s interaction with storytelling advance and transform many aspects of the art. “People are really using technology to find ways to tell stories, which I would say is the biggest change I’ve seen over the years.”

Photo of Len Cabral provided by Ann Clanton

“But one of the things that Funda has always done, that is so much a part of Black storytelling traditions, is really the notion of call and response,” says Tutson. “The audience’s immediate response is so important to the experience, and that’s a shared thing between the storyteller and the listeners. You don’t get the same immediacy through a technological device.” Tutson is excited and curious to see how this year’s new hybrid approach will work. For the last two years, Funda Fest has been online only. This year, most events are live and also streamed for an online audience. “Zoom is pretty darn good. But just broadcasting it out there in the world is really hard, is really different.”

Regardless of technology changes, there are enduring aspects of storytelling that will always draw us back to it. “Storytelling is the thing that helps us know who we are, in whatever time we’re in. But also in the sankofa way. I think storytelling is what helps us remember that even if we’re having our own experiences, we are part of the human continuum. And the human experience,” says Tutson.

This year, the festival starts with a birthday party co-hosted by Haus of Glitter on Jan 14, with a VIP reception from 5 – 7pm and a dance party from 7 – 9pm, all at the Roger Williams Park Casino. The next day, Haus of Glitter and RI Latino Arts (RILA) meet at the Southside Cultural Center of RI from 3 – 5pm for performances featuring Magnolia Perez and Sussy Santana. After this, another VIP reception follows. The next weekend, on Jan 21, it’s Black History Live! They’ll be at the Southside Cultural Center all day, with a storytelling workshop at 10am and a variety of performances all day from artists like Rochelle Garner Coleman, Antonio Rocha, and Becky Bass. The following day features an event full of spoken word and poetry from the folks at Outspoken! PVD: Rudy “Rudacious” Cabrera and Ginay Lopes are featured, plus there’s an open mic. This event runs from 4 – 6pm.

Janice Curtis Greene, a griot from Maryland and current President of the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS), will wow audiences with her performance as Harriet Tubman at South Kingstown High School on Wednesday, Jan 25. RI PBS is cosponsoring this event as part of their documentary on Underground Railroad legends. Thursday at the Southside Cultural Center, from 5 – 7pm, the Community Flavors event, sponsored by Higher Ground International (HGI), will have plenty of food, RIBS story prompts, and a traditional Grand March led by the Sweeties.

Guest storytellers image provided by Ann Clanton

You can find the RIBS FIBS Liar’s Contest at the MPACT Stage in Pawtucket on Friday, where competitors will make up their best untrue stories and aim to convince the others in the room that they’re 100% true. Anyone can enter to win a cash prize! Register as a contestant online on the RIBS site: ribsfest.org.

On Saturday, Jan 28, the festival’s Free Family Fun Day is split between Pawtucket’s Black Lives Matter Innovation Center and the MPACT Stage. There will be workshops, poetry, youth and family storytelling, & vendors available. Sunday is the last day of the festival, with Sacred Storytelling at the MPACT Stage from 2 – 4pm, featuring the Mixed Magic Theatre Exult Choir, Worship Arts Restoration, Inc. (WAR), and featured guests. There will also be a session of Storytelling for Grown Folk at 7:30 PM, a lot of fun for the adults.

The events on Saturday, Jan 28 and the performance at South Kingstown High School are free and open to the public but require registration; all the other events cost $20. You can buy tickets to these events separately or pay $75 for a festival pass, good for everything except the birthday party. The pass is good for both live & online attendance. More info is available on the RIBS website: ribsfest.org.

40 Whacks Later: Lizzie Borden in the House

Lizzie Borden exhibit. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism on Flickr.

On August 4, 1892, over 130 years ago, a double murder took place in Fall River, MA. Andrew & Abby Borden were brutally killed in their home, struck with an axe or hatchet multiple times, although not the amount that they say in the nursery rhyme that came of it. Now, it’s said that their ghosts haunt the home where they lost their lives. In fact, it frequently makes lists as one of the most haunted places in the US. That makes it a great place to have a bed & breakfast!

  The Lizzie Borden House is named for the younger of Andrew’s daughters, one many thought was guilty of the crime. The year following the murders, there was a sensational trial, which resulted in a full acquittal for the young Ms. Borden. News of the crime & subsequent trial reached all over the country and as far as London, England, which had just finished dealing with the Jack the Ripper murders a few years beforehand. After her acquittal, Lizzie & her older sister Emma would move out of the house, and it would change hands quite a few times over the years. 

In 1996, the home was converted to a bed & breakfast, as well as a museum chronicling the story. In 2021, it was purchased by US Ghost Adventures, a national company dedicated to tours & investigations of the supernatural. Lizzie Borden House General Manager Jared Robinson, a Fall River native, has history with the house, from childhood. “My aunt used to manage the house, & my grandmother used to work here, & my cousin was here,” he said, so he’d been there at times, but he didn’t start working there until June 2021; USGA would make the purchase shortly afterwards. There are still some people working there from previous owners, as well as fresh faces. 

“Ultimately, I think the best way to experience the house is to spend the night,” explains Robinson, “Just because you get fully submersed into the experience.” He understands, though, that not everyone is into being spooked; for those people, he recommends the tours given daily. House tours start at 10am and run until 5pm. During a tour, guides give a lot of information about the crime & the people involved, so it works for the history buffs and fans of true crime mysteries & other stories, as well as those who want to get chills running down their spines. USGA also offers walking tours of downtown Fall River, beginning & ending at the Borden House. These are a blend of the historical & the supernatural. People can also take part in ghost hunts in the house, with equipment provided by the company. “We have plenty of guests that book all three tours & stay overnight as well,” says Robinson. 

We’re right in the middle of their busy season, late September to the first half of November, so getting rooms would be difficult; it’s recommended to book months in advance. Tours fill up quickly, too, so it’s good to go online & book one in advance, rather than showing up at the door. In early August, they also get a surge, due to the anniversary of the murders. On this year’s anniversary, they did a fun poll using stickers marked either guilty or not guilty; tour guests would choose a sticker either before or after their tours, and the staff kept count. The vast majority think that Lizzie was at least in some way responsible for the murders, whether it be in the planning, the coverup, or the actual killing. Even Robinson said, “I find it hard to believe she had nothing to do with it.” 

In 1997, Stanford University held a mock trial for Lizzie Borden. The results were the same: not guilty. Robinson thinks, though, that there may be a difference between not guilty & innocent. Unfortunately, they didn’t even have the ability to get fingerprints, never mind DNA. Most physical evidence was destroyed over time, except for the handle-less hatchet police found in the basement, which is on display at the Fall River Historical Society. All witnesses have passed on long ago. In short, there’s no way to renew investigations & discover the truth. “I don’t think we’ll ever know. I hope we never know,” states Robinson. There’s something to be said for the mystery of it all.

Lizzie Borden House Bed & Breakfast and Museum
230 Second Street, Fall River, MA.

Author and poet Jaybird Walker is also a tour guide at the Lizzie Borden House.

Storming the Castle: Party to preserve local gothic architecture

Barnaby Castle is quite probably the first house where murder by US mail happened, right here in Providence, RI. It also resulted in what was the longest homicide trial in the US at that time, almost six weeks (others have, naturally, lasted much longer since then). In comparison, for the trial of Lizzie Borden, the prosecution rested after nine days. Who can say why one house has more notoriety than the other? Of course, Barnaby Castle doesn’t boast of any ghosts, while the Lizzie Borden House Bed & Breakfast and Museum of Fall River, MA, makes some lists as one of the top 10 most haunted places in the US; that probably has something to do with it. Still, Barnaby has something that the Borden House doesn’t yet have: a killer Halloween party.

  This will be the party’s fifth year; it would have been six, if not for the pandemic. Kaitlyn Frolich of Kaitlyn Alyece Event Architects is the chief architect for the gathering. Every year, they assemble dozens of sponsors & volunteers to provide food & drink from the best local restaurants, such as Julian’s and The Capital Grille, as well as immersive art installations & decorations from local artists, and entertainment on every level of the building. The party starts at 7pm for those who purchase VIP tickets; there will be special performances, food & drinks, and all sorts of surprises. All other ticket holders are welcome after that first hour. “It’s an expensive ticket, but it’s all inclusive,” says Frolich. She feels one of the things people like about the event is that it’s just pure fun, “no shakedown,” as in no raffle, auction, or other major grab for money outside of the ticket price.

  There is very little in the way of expenses for this shindig, because so much is donated. Frolich estimates the return is about ninety-eight percent. All proceeds go to help the restoration of the house. Attendees are not just going to a great Halloween party, but they are also becoming “a partner in the preservation” of a piece of RI history. Barnaby Castle was built in 1875 for Jerothmul & Josephine Barnaby, prominent members of RI society. Today, painstaking work is being put into making this house the ”gem of Broadway” that it was then. So far, the party has helped to pay for restoration of the stained-glass windows in the solarium, exterior painting, and saving the distinctive, defining turret from falling off the side of the mansion. 

  Last year’s party was especially difficult, while still in the pandemic. They did the responsible thing in having testing stations & requiring proof of vaccination. With three hundred guests over the course of the evening, not one case of COVID was reported. “Not one sniffle,” said Frolich proudly. Vaccinations are still encouraged this year, but I believe the only mask that you will be required to wear is the one that might go with your costume. Choose carefully, because there is a costume contest, on top of everything else this group provides.   If you want to join the party, http://www.kaitlyn-alyece-events.com/barnaby-castle has info, pics from previous years, & a link for ticket purchasing. Due to the limited size of the venue, there is a limit on how many tickets are sold, so if this is something you would be interested in attending, don’t sit on the fence; this event will sell out.

Fueling The Fire

The same fire that keeps the wolves at bay 

alerts them to your presence 

The same fire that pushes away the darkness 

makes the shadows dance 

The same fire that feeds off the air 

is threatened by the wind 

that heats the night 

is hindered by the cold 

How do you keep the fire going, knowing this? 

Where do you find the fuel? 

How do you stay alight 

in a world that wants to consume you 

  blind you 

  freeze you through & through? 

How do you keep afire in a wet 



      dangerous world? 

I’ve been searching for would 

but I can’t see the forest for the trees 

I’ve run out of gas 

My wick is too burned out to catch 

& the alcohol 

is too dangerous a fuel 

makes the fire unstable 

burns more than intended 

I don’t like to depend on it 

So, I remain lost in the wilderness 

fire falling 


      flickering to fain embers 

searching for the fuel to keep it going in this cold world 

but I am all wet 





  to let the wolves consume 

    the darkness surround me 

    the weather wear me down 

      ready to let the fire die 

I know a phoenix egg incubates in the embers 

but the fire is a double-edged sword 

& I’m afraid of pacing wolves & dancing shadows 

    of going deeper into wilderness with no paths     of burning myself again 

& of darkness yet to come 

I haven’t seen sunshine in months 

I wonder if it will ever come 

I wonder how long I can wait 

how long I can hold out 

  hold on 

how long I can last 

lost in the wilderness 

afraid of a fire that both saves me 

& enslaves me 

    indebts me to its existence 

    exposes me to dangers 

    torments me with shadows 

    taunts me with its frailty 

afraid of a fire 

that burns 

Knowing this, 

how do you keep the fire going?  

Jason E. “Jay” Walker

It’s A Masquerade!: Singer-Songwriter NiLa78 brings a party to The Parlour

On Sunday, Feb 27, The Parlour will present a masquerade party hosted by the dynamic performer known as NiLa78 (pronounced with a long I, like ice). The name comes from a combination of the first two letters of her first & middle names, and the number, while it coincidentally is her birth year, actually represents something special to her. “[It’s] the level that I believe that I’m on,” she explains, although she says the name won’t change, no matter how many levels she achieves. We’ll say it’s the level at which she started keeping track of levels. It’s also the level at which I started keeping track of her, & it’s the level at which you’re going to want to start keeping track of her, too. 

NiLa78 is a singer-songwriter originally from PVD’s South Side. Her music is “a fine meshing of all of my influences.” The daughter of a Pentecostal bishop and a professional musician, those influences started in churches with her mother and practice rooms & concert halls with her father. Then, she discovered The Dead Kennedys, which led her to punk, alternative, metal & other forms of rock. She also credits artists like Björk, Tori Amos & other “wonderfully eclectic people” for helping her realize it’s okay to be weird. She feels her music reflects the influence of all these artists. 

Broadway was also a secret goal during her childhood; she admired Ethel Merman for both her voice and her performance skills, which NiLa tried to mimic as a child. Between that and “the performance & pageantry of the Pentecostal Church,” NiLa learned and loves to not just sing but perform for you. Her shows feature an array of other artists, from poets to MCs to actors, presenting craft that she feels showcases the best of RI. Then, the night ends with a performance of original songs that sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, as well as covers that run from jazz standards to Ronnie James Dio, all of which is done with amazing ease behind a masquerade mask. NiLa78 seeks connection with her audience. “I’m there to have a good time,” she says, “and I want you to have a good time, too … but I want to take them through all the shades of the reality of being human.” If you want to connect with her and a one-of-a-kind musical experience, bring your own mask & join in at The Parlour Sunday, Feb 27th at 8pm.

(ed. note, the author is a previous manager of NiLa78)

America, Noun

Black Lives Matter rally in Providence, June 5, 2020; photo credit: Small Frye Photography


A-M-E-R-I-C-A, America 


From the Italian Amerigo 

which itself is from the German Amalric or Heimrich 

meaning “work ruler” or “home ruler”



From the English America 

meaning conflict 

    conflict with England 

      with Spain 

      with Mexico  

      with France  

      with Africa  

      with natives 

      with itself 



From the American 

meaning equality 


    liberty & justice for all 

      for all white male landowners 

Not women 

Not people of color 

Not the homeless 

Just white 





From the human 

meaning change 

    change the way we think 

    the way we rule 

    the way we represent 

    the way we live 

    the way we all live 



meaning potential 

    potential achievement 

                potential growth 

    potential to be the best possible version of you 



      the best possible version of you 


where is the best possible version of you?

when will you reach your potential?

when will you grow?

when will you change?

when will you achieve liberty & justice for all?

when will the conflict end?

when will you stop fighting with yourself?

            with the world?

            with The Universe?

when will you live & let live? 

when will you love thy neighbor?

when will you realize that anyone 

              that everyone can be an American?

when will you know 

what America means?