By Danaé Reid
The Rapha Art Center has been a staple in Brooklyn, New York for the past 20 plus years and has been revered as a safe space for persons of all backgrounds to come and be filled with the spirit and vitality of love.
The center has dedicated itself to community and has committed itself to forging gaps in our broken system through various events, programs, and drives. Now, however Rapha needs assistance to continue its longstanding legacy. About a month ago, the center was broken into and they’re looking for donations to replace what was lost.
I spoke with the organization’s spiritual director, MekhiEl, and community activist Herrana Addisu about the importance of the space, the importance of artistry, and the catalyst behind Rapha’s inception.
DR: Why do you think your community needs a center like this?
MekhiEl: Our community needs a center like Rapha because we need a place to celebrate our victories. We are a people who are consistently met with many defeats yet are not defeated. We are creatives and our art is the language of God, which reaffirms our ability to shift the trajectory, change the narratives and perpetuate creative transformations. Rapha is a performative art healing center. it’s where the community goes for spiritual practice, therapy, healing, and transformation — it’s our church.
DR: From its inception to now, how has the premise of the center changed, if it has? In what areas are you looking to expand?
MekhiEl: We started out as a non-denominational church, and now we are a cultural healing center where people of all faiths or no faith can come and feel positive vibes and the high frequency of love. Our expansion will consist of more creativity, a larger facility and better programs for our children that will allow them to explore their ability to heal themselves through indigenous healing modalities — e.g., meditation, yoga, internal martial arts alongside the more traditional arts — e.g., painting, writing, poetry, singing and dancing.
DR: What is your background in art, and furthermore, what about art and creation is transformative in your opinion? How has the art changed or advanced your life specifically?
MekhiEl: My background in art is writing, speaking and singing. I grew up in a Black Pentecostal church. From my religious background, I was able to connect art and spirituality. As I grew older, I began to ‘inner-stand’ that having a ritual reawakens, reaffirms and realigns me to my center. To be in sync with my spirit is what protects the authenticity, creativity, alchemy, essence, power and mystic of my art and life.
Once I came into a universal awareness of spirituality, I decided to go back to school. I studied at Union Theological Seminary earning a Master of Arts in theology, with a concentration in inter-religious engagement. Union confirmed for me that spirituality is art and social justice and you cannot heal without the both. My art reflects the times and goes deeper and beyond socio-political and psychological noise, to a place where my genius is at work unhinged and unbothered. What has shifted for me, is I no longer hold on to fix ideas of myself, I am always transforming and exploring higher levels of my complexity.
DR: Is there a particular favorite memory you have of the center?
MekhiEl: My favorite moment was our 20th anniversary celebration. Heranna and I collaborated with our organizations, Allies 4 justice and Rapha Art Life Center for a Vegan Soul Food Drive. It felt like the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The love, festivity, music and food were intoxicating and unforgettable.
Herrana: I first started going to the Rapha Art Life Center during the summer of 2020. Like many people in Brooklyn and New York, the pandemic took a toll on my mental health and also my happiness. I randomly found the center and forever grateful for that. Mekhi and center have become family to me. It is a place everyone feels at home in the community. With so much pain in the world right now, it’s the one place I feel that people of color can be happy and accepted.
I was able to organize a food drive with the Rapha Art Center that summer with Allies4Justice. That summer was particularly hard, as many of us were faced with the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It was needed. To heal the community with good vegan food and to be happy once again for that short moment.
That is why it’s important to support centers like the Rapha Art Center. To allow them to continue to uplift the community!
DR: Lastly, what are you most inspired by?
MekhiEl: What I am most inspired by at the moment is the space we call Rapha Art Life Center, 78 Saratoga Avenue, is magical and has changed the character of the neighborhood and made it a community.
For more information on the Rapha Art Center, and about how you can get involved, donate, etc., visit their website at: http://rapha-tv.org.
*The Rapha Art Life Center is a subsidiary of a 501c3 which means all donations are tax deductible*