Donté McDaniel, a second-year Master of Social Work student, smiles infectiously as he taps his fingers precisely and rhythmically against his djembe – a popular West African hand drum. Fresno State students and faculty encircle him at one of the 20 African djembes set up in the heart of the Fresno State Peace Garden.
McDaniel’s love for the music is apparent in his bright smile and the melodic way his taped fingers connect seamlessly with the djembe. A few individuals dance carefree to the echoing beats, inspiring the drummers to keep their rhythm. Passersby pause to take in the scene, nodding and clapping along to the soothing sounds.
This is a healing drum circle, and the group behind it is local African drumming group, Libota Mbonda, which means “generation of the drum”. McDaniel leads the three-member group and says their goal is to share their love of drumming, while also bringing African culture to life through music, and just as importantly, to emphasize music as a healing art form that has the power to bring communities together.
“Through drumming, children and adults can reduce anxiety, depression and stress, while creating an atmosphere that promotes community and social resilience,” McDaniel said.
Libota Mbonda has been performing and leading healing drum circles around the Central Valley at community events, for local schools and for nonprofits for the past year. This particular event, on campus, was in collaboration with the African American Student Social Work Association, in celebration of Black History Month.
McDaniel described the experience as an educational celebration to honor the significance of Black History Month. For McDaniel, bringing awareness and exposure of African culture and music is personal. While growing up in Selma, California, he was one of very few African Americans in his class – sometimes the only one.
But his life changed in the third grade when an African drummer came into his classroom and performed. From that moment, McDaniel was entranced with the art, the beat and language of the music of his people. To this day, he smiles as he remembers the excitement he felt that day, as the beat of the djembe flowed into his soul.
As McDaniel’s passion for the djembe grew, so did his interest in the social work profession. The resilience of his mother, who persevered through domestic violence and raised seven successful children, served as his inspiration. He saw firsthand the intricacies of familial bonds and how a strong support system could make a powerful impact.
“My mother had a very good family support system,”McDaniel said. “I realized she was able to do it with some help. So I thought, ‘how can I help other families who may not have that same support system?’”
This led to McDaniel earning his bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Fresno Pacific University. He dove straight into the workforce after graduation, but soon realized that achieving an advanced degree in the field would greatly benefit him in the long run.
Two years ago, McDaniel enrolled into Fresno State’s competitive Master of Social Work program, particularly its Title IV-E Child Welfare program, where he was able to hone his skills as it relates to trauma, child abuse and neglect. McDaniel plans to complete his degree this coming May and continue his professional work in this area.
As part of his thesis, he chose to merge his passion of drumming with his academics. Despite being a longtime musician, pairing the two was not something McDaniel ever anticipated.
“For me, drumming has always been separate from social work,” McDaniel said. “I always knew music could be used to bridge people together, but it wasn’t until last year that I became more interested in drumming intervention and music therapy among youth experiencing trauma or who lack mental health services. I didn’t want to be known as just the social worker that plays the drums on the weekends. I want to be able to say I’m actually using my gift to help others.”
McDaniel’s work is aimed at African American youth in middle school, and the notion of using drumming as an intervention for at-risk youth.
“Kids at that age are trying to figure out who they are,” McDaniel said. “By tying in African drumming, we are making connections back to their culture and history, while also helping them form their identity and providing them an outlet to practice their social and emotional skills.”
McDaniel believes the most important aspect of this work is to inspire African American youth.
“These kids may not see African Americans represented in their schools, so to be able to make connections with them and for them to be able to say to us ‘hey, I look like you’ is so important. It’s those little moments that mean so much.”
To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Kelsey Lyman, CHHS Student Writer
Photos by Mark Morales, CHHS Multimedia Student Assistant, and Cary Edmondson, University Brand Strategy and Marketing
Video by Fresno State