Shango Kwame: Independent and Free-Spirited

Meet Your Neighbor

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This photo depicts Shango Kwame in January baring his uncovered chest to the elements. Photo Antony Diallo

Ward 7’s Shango Kwame has not donned a shirt in at least 15 years. Easily recognized in Wards 7 and 8, he is the gentleman with the well-defined, bare torso, riding through the streets. Any shirt, sweater, jacket or coat, he said, hinders him on his bicycle, he said, and shirts are unnecessary in general. In the winter, Kwame mentally masters the cold.

“I move a lot. Staying in motion is part of the key to my success,” said Kwame. Asked his age, he answered “infinity.” “I used to do push-ups and work out” to keep energized and withstand the elements. “I still do but (the need) is not as much” said Kwame. 

Shango Kwame prepares to drum at Malcolm X.

Known as ‘Baba,’ father/elder, Shango, which means the warrior willing to stand alone, Kwame is an entrepreneur, drummer, health care professional and nutritionist. However, he might best be described as a determined non-conformist. For example, he chooses to ride one of his two bikes 10 to 20 miles a day, despite both being stuck in a single gear.

Early Career
Kwame began by studying healthcare in Marietta, Georgia. Then he served as a paramedic with the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Shortly around the time his son was born, he quit after being placed on suspension twice for not cutting his decade-old dreadlocks. While never regretting that decision, he later cut off his long, flowing locks in solidarity with his son. Kwame then worked at the District’s Hadley Memorial Hospital before the facility closed in 1990. He then moved to the trauma center at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center.

Ultimately, Kwame choose to shelve his hospital career to become a nutritionist and healer. Now, this holistic practitioner is building a business offering clients “healing touches or massages.” 

“All the things I frowned upon in the past,” Kwame says with a wry smile.

“I make and sell African shea butter for the hair and skin. I sell African clothing and accessories to uplift black people and help them recognize their African root culture. I also sell cultural African books based upon spirituality,” said Kwame. He plans to build a website for his products with the help of his son. Those interested can now contact him at (202) 246-4321 or shangokwame@aol.com. All of Kwame’s work reflects his spiritual orientation.

Spirituality
Shango Kwame believes that not belonging to a specific religion or denomination allows him to remain open to a variety of different doctrines and spiritual practices. Kwame lived in Puerto Rico for three years and is able to comfortably converse in Spanish. He is also knowledgeable about Yoruba spiritual practices.

Baba Shango and his son Ifasen at the latter’s African rite of passage.

The Yoruba are one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria and parts of Benin and Togo, num-bering an estimated 20 million. Today, the Yoruba are mostly Christians and Muslims. However, aspects of their traditional religion survive, including a supreme creator as well as 400 lesser gods and spirits. Much like the principles of Kwanzaa, Kwame believes in the celebration of family, community and culture rooted in the values of Africans and Black Americans with strict attention for a meaningful, principled and productive life. He is a strict vegan. All these practices he incorpo-rates into his home life

“Shango by nature is a community person. He’ll give you everything that he has. He is all about up-lifting the community and people of African descent. He was born to serve in the spirit of Dr. King,” said Gary Daniels, a retired DCPS teacher who met Kwame about four years ago.

Living The Good Life
A Ward 7 resident, Kwame rents a home in Twining with his wife “Mama Jessica” and 15-year-old son Ifasen, which means “it performs a miracle.”

“My biggest accomplishment is raising my son and being with his mother,” he said. “I am proud of them.”

Ifasen is a student of the Sankofa Home School Collective (sankofahomeschool.org). This is an Afri-can-centered homeschool community for families of color. Like a certain percentage of American students, Ifasen has never attended a traditional public school.

Kwame and his son are active and excel in sports. Ifasen’s primary sport is soccer. Kwame plays as much tennis as he can. “If it is at least 48 degrees, we will be playing some tennis. Sometimes we’ll play for three hours straight and then go cycling,” said Daniels.

Besides being an avid tennis player, Baba Shango is an ardent drummer. He performs at Malcolm X Park in Adams Morgan and in Benjamin Banneker Park in Southwest as well as New York City and New Jersey.

“Shango Kwame is a great brother in the community who holds strong attributes,” said Sister Sumayyah Abdullah, a poet and African dancer who has known Kwame for several years.

“He’s acknowledged for the many skills of artistry that he brings to the world like his drumming, coaching tennis, and selling all-natural body creams to name just a few. Shango is full of life and always speaks words of power and positivity,” she said.