As a 5 year old little girl, the theme song to Gullah Gullah Island was the highlight of my morning. I would watch the show before it was time for my mom to take me to school. I always secretly wished that I could go to Gullah Gullah Island!
This past summer I took a trip to Charleston, SC with my husband. I guess you can say, I finally got to go to Gullah Gullah Island! I learned the inspiration behind the name of that childhood favorite show. We found ourselves on a Gullah tour around the city, and I was fascinated to hear about black history that I have never seen grace textbook pages.
Charleston, SC was the port of entry to 40-60 percent of the Africans brought to America during the slave trade. The name of the group of Africans who ended up settling in the North/South Carolina and Georgia areas are the Gullah people. Gullah is a word that’s origin is not really known. However, the word has been used for a long time and it is still used to describe the people, language (creole), and culture.
I found myself searching the Gullah hashtag on Instagram, and that is how I stumbled upon Natalie Daise’s page (@gullahmama). It was modest, not thousands of followers, but I recognized her instantly. Natalie Daise played the mom on Gullah Gullah Island. I reached out to Natalie and she agreed to talk with me without any hesitation.
Of course, the first thing I wanted to discuss was the show! Natalie told me that the idea for Gullah Gullah Island actually was presented to her and her husband Ron, by a friend back in the early 90s.
The friend had been pitching ideas to Nickelodeon and thought Natalie and Ron would be great for a children’s show. Natalie and Ron were (and still are) story tellers. They travel the world as theater actors, telling stories, singing songs, and teaching people young and old about rich Gullah culture and traditions. Their friend knew they would be great to pitch for the show especially since they already had a talent for performing arts. One thing lead to the next – and after having a camera man come follow them around their home, it was decided that a TV show would be made around them just being themselves. Gullah Gullah Island started on air in 1994 and ran for about 10 years.
I could hear Natalie light up when she talked about the show, but I could hear her passion even more as she spoke about her life now. Natalie says that she is not against doing TV again, but it would have to be the right fit. In the meantime, she is completely devoted to continuing to chase her passions. She is in preliminary steps of creating a web show, and would like to develop a series of creative workshops to help people stretch their creative muscles through art. Natalie also continues to travel the world and act.
Natalie says that a lot of people did not know that she is a painter. Somehow between all of the other great things she does, she manages to create beautiful paintings like these below. Natalie explained that she likes to paint beautiful pictures of black people often wearing clothing that looks like collard greens. It is her own unique concept and she says that the greens reminds her of home, family, her father, and all around make her feel happy. A lot of Gullah art depicts black people from slavery times. It is common to find paintings of blacks in cotton fields. Natalie wanted to do something different, and she has with her paintings. She says that she believes that slavery was a hallway that we had to pass through, but we are so much more than that. That is why she chooses to paint the way she does. Her paintings represent culture, they represent Gullah.
I was so inspired to talk with Natalie and for her to share her art with me. Never would I have thought that I would get the chance to bask in nostalgia as I did during our conversation. She gives off so much wisdom and when I asked her what she would say to a young person today wanting to chase their dreams, her response is something that really resonated with me. Her response is the most important thing that I want to share with you all about our little chat.
I feel that many of us can relate to this, and just like we learned valuable lessons from watching her on tv years ago… I feel we can learn something from Natalie now too. As a child, I was dreamer…and as an adult I still am. It is words like Natalie’s that I will choose to recall when the going gets tough.
Maybe my trip to Charleston was not my visit to Gullah Gullah Island…maybe getting to talk with Natalie directly was. Either way, I am so glad that after all of these years…I finally got to go to Gullah Gullah Island.
“The world is very different than it used to be, there was advice that was given to us that was very well meaning. They said, ‘go to college, you will get a good job, you will make a lot of money if you work hard.’ That is a
fallacynow. That concept is not always true. While you must eat everyday, you must also find a way to follow your passions. You are going to have to CREATE what you want. You are going to have to look at what you have, and figure out how you can use what you have to create the life that you want. I invite everyone to do that, not just the youth. What do you have that you can use in a way that would make your life better, and make other people’s lives better?
Don’t let folks
talk you out of it. Sometimes, you will get scared. That happens…it’s not always going to be easy. You just have to get up everyday and do something you love. If you are afraid, do the things you love anyway. You do not want to live with the regret of not chasing your dreams. It is okay if you are different from everyone else, remember that your weirdness is your strength.”