From Groove City to Ghana

By Debra Messick
Posted 3/20/24

Ubuntu Studio only recently hoisted its colorful ‘Open’ flag on Race Street. But partner/owners Mike Bryan and Jermaine Anderson are both on familiar ground when it comes to highlighting African American culture in Cambridge.

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From Groove City to Ghana


CAMBRIDGE - Ubuntu Studio recently hoisted its colorful "Open" flag on Race Street. But partner/owners Mike Bryan and Jermaine Anderson are both on familiar ground when it comes to highlighting African American culture in Cambridge.

Located near the iconic Harriet Tubman Take My Hand mural behind the Tubman Museum and Educational Center, it's fitting to find works celebrating local heroes Tubman and Frederick Douglas.

But Ubuntu uniquely celebrates the African part of the equation, with art and fashion directly from the home continent.

When Cordtown native Bryan sojourned to New York City for a stint working on Wall Street 50 years ago, he frequently visited family in Harlem and Brooklyn during the burgeoning birth of Hip Hop.

Upon returning to Cambridge several years later, he gifted his hometown with the powerful sounds he'd found, and a new name that’s also stood the test of time, Groove City.

Anderson put down roots in Harriet Tubman’s birthplace several years ago. He, too, has contributed a multitude of gifts including a passion for art, cuisine, and honoring ancestral connections.

Channeling personas such as food entrepreneur Chef Maine O and artivist Zion Ink, his current portfolio includes Underground Cafe and Art Bar 2.0, with a bigger blueprint in the works for North Star Village featuring the Harriet Tubman Pavilion.

As executive director of nonprofit Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation, Anderson was instrumental in bringing the commemorative spirit of Harriet Tubman home. On the spot where slave auctions were once held, the Beacon of Hope statue was permanently installed at the Dorchester County Courthouse.

Now, the two are collaborating on projects linking Harriet Tubman’s Cambridge birthplace with Adomorobe, her ancestral home in Ghana, among them a new Tubman statue.

Both men have had connections to Africa through commerce and diplomacy. For Bryan and Anderson, Ubuntu Studio represents that bridging of origin and diaspora, offering art, clothing, and more crafted by Ghanian artisans.

The word Ubuntu represents a philosophy of humanity towards all, Bryan said. “Young people in Africa are expressing this vision that ‘we are all collectively one.’”

That message is represented by the artwork filling the walls, especially a piece depicting Harriet Tubman as a bridge from the U.S. to Ghana, believed by her family to be her ancestral home.

The work is just one by young Ghanaian artist Agongobiah, whose other works recreate scenes from his home area using repurposed natural materials including bamboo, and coconut shells plus foraged items.

Bryan’s Ghanaian wife Araba discovered the young man while he was selling his unique works on the streets of the capital, Acra, trying to earn money to support himself and his family, who are from an economically depressed area in the country’s rural north.

That connection brought Agongobiah to his first U.S. showing at Ubuntu Studio, where he has been the March featured artist.

He has joined several other artisans who have entrusted their work to Bryan to be showcased, first at Ubuntu, but with additional U.S. outlets to follow soon.

This seemingly destined linkage between Tubman’s birthplace here and Admorabe came about as a happy accident.

Several years ago, business associates had asked Bryan to set up a meeting with Aman Sulley, owner of the largest charcoal factory in Sierra Leone. While Sulley was detained on other business in Europe for several months, Bryan became fascinated exploring Adomorabe’s artistic and historic terrain.

That period produced several lasting relationships, from members of the local arts community, to the first female chief and elders, but, especially, his wife.

“After a relatively short period of time, the artists began entrusting me to bring their work to Ubuntu in Cambridge,” Bryan said.

Even more significantly, the chief and elders presented him with three acres of land atop the area's highest point. There are now plans to build a school and erect a Harriet Tubman statue.

While historians haven't confirmed the site’s link to Tubman’s family, several African American descendants expressed the belief that Tubman’s grandmother, Modesty, was Ashanti and Ghanaian.

In 2005, NPR reported on an earlier visit to the area by two of Tubman’s great-grand nieces, who were also warmly welcomed.

Both Bryan and Anderson are excited, not only to provide a platform for artists of Ghana, and soon, Sierra Leone, but especially to participate in helping connect African diaspora members with their homeland.

Ubuntu Studio is at 424 Race St.

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