Berkeley High’s Naomi Diouf, fondly known as “Mama Washington,” was lauded in a City of Berkeley Proclamation, title “In Honor of Mama Washington,” issued on Thursday, May 16, by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.
The upcoming retirement of Ms. Diouf, teacher of African/Haitian dance and chair of the African American Studies Department, has prompted an outpouring of fond tributes.
On Wednesday, May 14, Berkeleyside marked the occasion with a lengthy profile.
“After nearly three decades, the renowned dancer is retiring this summer from her position leading Berkeley High’s Afro-Haitian dance program, one she greatly expanded and transformed into a centerpiece of the school’s arts and African American studies programs,” wrote reporter Natalie Orenstein. “Thousands of students have taken her classes, and thousands more have enjoyed the rhythmic, colorful performances on the Community Theater stage.”
The City Proclamation – presented to Mama Washington on May 16 by City Councilmember Ben Bartlett on behalf of the Mayor at the school’s Afro-Haitian Dance Production in the Community Theater – says in part, “Mama Washington has dedicated her life’s work to the preservation, education, and appreciation of traditional West African music, dance and theater, enriching the cultural fabric of our city, our community and our world.”
According to Mama Washington, the word “retirement” doesn’t accurately capture her plans. “I know I’m leaving a great part of my life,” she told Berkeleyside. “But I’m not retiring, I’m transitioning into my next stage of life. That’s the African tradition — everyone goes through stages.”
You can view Mark Coplan’s online video and photos of Mama Washington’s final Afro-Haitian Dance Production on May 16, “50 Years – A Tribute to Excellence”: