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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Navasha Daya: A passion for cultivating community through the Arts

Like many others who come to Baltimore to attend college, Navasha Daya did not come to stay. And yet, the internationally acclaimed songstress has made Baltimore her home, co-founded (with husband Fanon Hill) the Youth Resiliency Institute, a Cherry Hill Community-based nonprofit, and is co-director of the annual Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival. 

Navasha Daya promo photo – courtesy of Daya World, LLC photographed by Jazzystudios

   By all rights, enrollment at Morgan State University was not originally in her plans, either. She’d been awarded a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music, but, influenced by her high school choir director, she chose to attend Morgan, instead.

   She explains, “My choir director at Cleveland School of the Arts told me that I needed to go to Morgan State University because they had the best HBCU choir at the time. So, in choosing Morgan, it was based upon the choir.” 

   The self-described “flexi” (second alto to first soprano) found her place on Dr. Nathan M. Carter’s world-renowned choir and became one of the Morgan Singers, the choir’s core group; travelled overseas; sang solos; and served a term as choir president. Choir activities kept the Music-Education Major busy, but she still found time to enjoy HBCU campus life. She was crowned Miss Morgan, 1997-1998. All the while, she was also developing an affection for Baltimore and says, “I loved the environment and energy of Baltimore at the time.”

   A longtime independent musician, Daya says that her career’s travel requirements prevented her from working a conventional job as a music teacher, but that didn’t keep her from teaching and working in the community. Even while traveling internationally as lead singer for the extremely popular, now-defunct “neo-soul” band Fertile Ground, she taught. Having been raised in what she describes as “an environment that was extremely vibrant, spiritually, and aware of culture,” that was work that she knew needed to be done.

   “I was able to travel around all of the city of Baltimore, to different schools and recreation centers, teaching music. And, I would always do movement with my students, holistic development, and multicultural music. So, I’ve had a chance to give back the whole time I’ve been an artist, I’ve never stopped working with young people,” she says. 

   When Daya and Hill, along with two former mentees, co-founded the Youth Resiliency Institute in 2010, they established the mission “to utilize the Arts to mobilize and bring change and equity in the community.” She says, “Because we are multifaceted as an organization, the leadership is able to share and teach a wide variety of things, and then, we have a wonderful resource of peers and partners, as well”

   In describing their work, she says, “We have different tracks in our organization. We do cultural arts; family engagement; school, community, and home support; and health and wellness. For over 10 years, we’ve been developing, researching, implementing, and evaluating culturally responsive community arts in Baltimore, Maryland and in Cleveland, Ohio,” and explains further, “We partner with organizations that are very similar to ours, in other states but also out of the country, who utilize cultural arts, culture, and rights-of-passage in their programming.”

   Annually, the organization holds the Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival on July 4, to celebrate victories experienced through the year. Additionally, it serves as a fundraiser for the Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival Arts Relief Fund and provides financial support for educational arts and crafts supplies and other materials for families in the Cherry Hill community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

   Due to COVID-related restrictions, the past two years have been virtual. This year, Daya, who serves as the festival’s co-director, is excited that the sixth annual festival will return as an in-person gathering at its Middle Branch Park location. The festivities will begin at 1 p.m.

   Daya’s work with the festival makes her one of only a few female festival directors and adds to her diverse arsenal of skills and expertise. Many are unaware that in addition to being a professional singer/songwriter, business owner, community activist, arts programmer, and more, she is also a Reiki practitioner and spiritual counselor. 

   “I’ve been a Reiki practitioner since 2000, and I’ve been teaching for about 12 years. Then, I also provide spiritual counseling as an ordained interfaith minister. I also mentor emerging and established artists, providing spiritual counseling and mentorship.” 

   Navasha Daya believes, “There is a divine purpose to every relationship.” As she teaches, mentors, counsels, and shares her art, her divine purpose is clearly to uplift the Cherry Hill community, its members, and all with whom she works.  

   She explains, “I’m always going to see and encourage the light. I’m always going to do that. No matter what storm I’m in, I’m going to be looking for the light. As an artist, I really value the power of art as a healing tool. So that’s what I’ve always done. And I’ll never stopped doing that.”

   For additional information and to support the Youth Resiliency Institute, visit https://www.youthresiliencyinstitute.org/ or https://www.wkkf.org/what-we-do/featured-work/youth-resiliency-institute-the-power-of-cultural-organizing-and-building-strong-parent-leaders 

   For additional information and to support the Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival and Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival Arts Relief Fund, visit https://cherryhillfest.com/

   Stream The Liberation Song (Red, Black and Green) feat. Gary Bartz, by Navasha Daya, at https://navashadaya.bandcamp.com/track/the-liberation-song-red-black-and-green-feat-gary-bartz 

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