David Thete has the abundant good energy of a guy who doesn’t turn 19 until July 21. He has the buoyant good humor of a young man who “can get along with just about anyone … (it’s) one of his greatest strengths,” in the words of Mary King, in whose theology class he studied at Cheverus High School. And Thete has the creativity, intellect and personal drive to bring people together for a cause, as he did in founding Kesho Wazo just over a year ago.
In Swahili, Kesho Wazo means “tomorrow’s ideas.” In Portland, Kesho Wazo is “basically an arts collective,” explained Thete, whose role is creative director. “A positive group of superheroes (he prefers the term over the loaded “activists”) “who, if there’s something we see as a problem, we just go to help solve it, in whatever way we can help.”
The collective is a loose one with fluctuating membership not only local, but also extending to Europe and Asia, thanks to social media. In fall 2016, Kesho Wazo’s projects included “Bridging The Gap for Social Inclusion,” a collaboration with two University of New England students that culminated in an on-campus event featuring an art installation – a bridge built of research materials literally embodying the project’s findings.
Also, at the invitation of Space Gallery, in November Kesho Wazo teamed with Detroit-based artist Ray Spectrum on “House Whether,” a multidimensional, participatory exhibit focused on issues related to housing in Portland.
The nonprofit, visual-and-performing-arts Space Gallery on Congress Street is very much home to Kesho Wazo, for its meetings and workshops as well as performances. “We happily give them space whenever they need it, because we’re always encouraging young and emerging artists,” said Space interim director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.
Space Gallery is where filmmaker Erin Murphy discovered Kesho Wazo and met Thete. Murphy is a Colby College adjunct professor and a specialist in documentaries who had a short in the Maine International Film Festival last summer. In December, she began filming a feature-length documentary on the group and its activities.
“I met David and we went for coffee and it was already like hanging out with a friend,” Murphy remembered. “He has a magnetic personality. I heard about his original idea for Kesho Wazo, and what it is evolving into, and they seemed such a fascinating group to film – they’re so energetic and excited – and see them try to bring their ideas to life.”
Murphy emphasized that the documentary is very much a collaborative effort. “‘Tomorrow’s Ideas’ is the title, and it will take about a year to finish,” Thete said. “When it’s completed, we would like to see it premiered at one of the big theaters. And then get it out to kids all over the world. To show them that they can do whatever they hope to accomplish, make their imaginations reality.”
Thete (pronounced, approximately, “thay-tay”) knows about making that kind of transition. At Cheverus he was an unhappy underachiever who thought that “there wasn’t really a system out there for me … Mary King (the teacher) helped changed my life, showed me that I can have influence on people. Do positive things and by example encourage others to do the same.
“I started to better myself, read more, you know what I mean? Make my own system, figure out a way to give back to the world. Create.”
Another potent influence on Thete, and an inspiring example as he strives to be, is his mom, Adele Masengo Ngoy, a fashion designer who also teaches women to become professional stitchers. Her designs will be featured at a Kesho Wazo “showcase” to be held at Space on Saturday, April 22. Performances will includes dance, a fashion show, music (Thete produces and records beats) and more.
More imminent Kesho Wazo productions include an early-June music release (on soundcloud) by Thete, with two short films by his friend Daniel Kayamba, whose longer film will also be premiering soon. Thete also envisions Kesho Wazo staging a festival on the Portland waterfront. And he is looking well beyond that.
“My goal for the group is locations in five places in the world. China, Africa, Maine, Europe, and Alaska.”
To learn more about Kesho Wazo, please visit www.keshowazo.org; and see this video by Henry Spritz, with music by Owen Hoffsten:
These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.