Ron Carter had the 20-plus children in the room transfixed. They laughed and gasped, hanging onto his words. He had the rhythmic flow of a Caribbean storyteller, and to the inattentive listener the story may have sounded like an old legend. The careful listener might have caught one important detail that gave the story away as more contemporary. The main character, Uumba, was a panda bear, hardly a Haitian animal.
“This is one of our more unusual programs,” said Allyson Bower, the children’s librarian at the Charles L. Durham Branch. “We’ve had storytellers in the past, but not with the whole combination… We’ve had magicians, we usually have story tellers, but not so cultural like this.”
The storyteller wore bright tribal colors and sat behind two large drums, but he isn’t an immigrant from the island. He is a Philadelphia native.
“I studied classical trumpet in the Philadelphia school system…. During that time when I was studying music, around the age of 10, I picked up playing the drums. In about the seventh grade I started writing poetry,” Carter said. “In my late ’40s because of the long elaborate poems I wrote I took a chance at some storywriting.”
Carter didn’t follow a straight line to here. He talked about how in 1989 he became addicted to crack, spending the following nine years in and out of prison. He said he was never busted for drugs, but instead for retail thefts committed to support his addiction.
He turned his life around. He earned an associate degree in electronic technology and works for the city on its traffic lights. He said he hopes to earn his bachelor’s degree. He also helped found Progeny’s Legacy Jamaa, a group teaching about African diaspora.
His performance on Feb. 8 at the Charles L. Durham Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia was part of the One Book, One Philadelphia program. 2012’s book is Haitian American Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. Younger students are recommended Denize Lauture’s Running the Road to ABC.
“We come to the library every Wednesday and they have activities for the kids to do and they participate in them,” said Igram Dorse, who chaperoned the children visiting from The Caring Center.
His performance included short stories, drum playing and a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. After, he helped the children make shakers out of beans and plastic Easter eggs.
“When they laugh and react to the stories it tells you that you are making an impression, and it means they are enjoying themselves,” Carter said.