Makaiya Simmons (she/her), a resource management specialist in Everett, has often struggled to feel authentically connected with the Black community. Growing up as a mixed-race woman in suburbia, Makaiya was regularly the only woman of color in any given area—but exposure to rich international culture inspired her to make more meaningful connections with Black culture at home. It wasn’t long until Makaiya realized that playing the clarinet, which she began in third grade, was connected to one of the cornerstones of Black culture—music. In this year’s Black History Month celebration, Makaiya speaks about her experiences with identity, community, and the arts.
What comes to your mind about this year’s Black History Month theme, African Americans and the Arts?
Music. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya, and they shared with me how important music has been in their traditions—music and dancing keep their culture alive so far from home. That’s when I realized how important music is for us. Even if we don’t know how to trace our ancestry back to Africa, I think music helps us find ourselves. When my family gets together, we listen to jazz, Motown, and ‘90s hip-hop. It connects us.
I once visited the Motown Museum in Detroit and learned how hard the greats worked to make music, and their experiences weren’t the same as those of other artists of that time who weren’t Black. Once we know that history, we see why Black music has so much truth. I hear that story when I listen to music from Black artists, and I understand why music is so important to Black culture.