Celebrating Black History With A San Diego Icon

Meet World Beat Center Founder Makeda Cheatom

By Courtney Daly-Pavone January 26, 2020

*This article is a 3 minute read

Makeda Cheatom's life story could be a movie.  She came to San Diego with her family when she was a baby after the KKK had chased her parents out of Texas. She grew up in America's Finest City where she gained fame as a DJ on 91x hosting a reggaee radio program for twenty-five years. In 1989 she opened The World Beat Center in an old watering tower that she renovated in Balboa Park

What Is Worldbeat?

More than a music concert venue, museum and educational space, it's a one of a kind historical and living history center where people from all walks of life and nationalities can learn about the contributions made by black people to science, and art throughout history. These lessons aren't taught in public schools, but instead by intrepid scholars, and Makeda believed that this history shouldn't be overlooked by the general public. 

Makeda states, "We want to continue the legacy of diversity, equity and inclusion through the arts by co-creating a space in Balboa Park where African Americans and Africans of the diaspora have a chance to tell their history." 

Ms. Cheatom has received a number of awards for her work including: the Women's Museum of California Cultural Competent Bridge Builder Award in 2012, she was inducted into the San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame, she received a Channel 10 Leadership Award, an NAACP Award, and countless accolades for her work in the community.

All Are Welcome @ World Beat

Crowds gather at World Beat for many of their free and low cost classes. There's free drop in yoga, low cost capoeira martial arts, and family drumming lessons twice a week. On a Friday morning I watched a group of special needs students learn African drumming at World Beat though a partnership with the Trace Program. World Beat is also a great place to hear live music, all genres from reggae to Jazz!

World Beat's children's summer camp teaches cooking, gardening and science for an affordable rate. This specialty camp focuses on the contributions made by the Mayans and Egyptians to the field of astronomy. Children learn about African American inventors like George Washington Carver the creator of peanut butter, but also the inventor of a biodegradable plastic made out of yams! Kids cook food using a solar oven. They learn about healthy eating, and meditation. This camp is recognized by The National Science Foundation. World Beat has it's own Non-GMO Garden where children can grow their own food, and study botany. Makeda is most proud of the diverse group of campers that attend World Beat every year.

According to Makeda World Beat is dedicated to educating the next generation. "I think art, music and culture are so important. It's also important to be in nature that's why Balboa Park is essential for urban youth. Our young generations have mostly grown up indoors and with electronic devices. We have teach them to be environmental stewards by reconnecting to the outdoors."

World Beat's annual all day Martin Luther King celebration draws crowds in the hundreds. Diverse speakers from various faiths, and entertainment like Aztec dancers, African dancers, poets, Rabbi's and a Kumeyaay Native American chief all work together in commemorating  Dr. King in various art forms. My family never misses it. I was drawn to World Beat fifteen years ago when I attended an African festival in Balboa Park. My son attended African drumming at World Beat as a toddler. The center also has a vegan soul food cafe, and a welcoming vibe.

According to Makeda, "We are at a critical time in America and in the world. It's imperative that we continue to hold onto principles of peace, kindness, and compassion.When fear is used to control, love is how we rebel." 

Makeda states, "We have to teach peace to our children by being peace and having peace and integrity throughout our daily lives in our workplace, with friends, family and as we go about our day. We have to be still and take time to look within ourselves and know that the only enemy is within and that's greed, hatred, jealousy and competition. We have to live simply."

What Does The Future Hold For World Beat?

The city of San Diego is looking to develop unused land in Balboa Park, and the future of this major institution is at stake. Makeda is hopeful that World Beat will survive this latest battle. "There has been so much injustice done to African Americans and people of color. As an African American, it shouldn't have been so hard for me to put a positive center that serves San Diego and its tourists. We have maintained this building for 30 years and we want to continue this legacy for San Diego and beyond. "  

How Can You Help?

You can support World Beat by attending classes, concerts, or becoming a member (member donations are just $25 a year). According to Makeda, "The darkness always comes before the light. We need centers like the World Beat Center all over the world especially in cities that seem to have no hope." 

World Beat Cultural Center

2100 Park Blvd.

San Diego, CA 92101

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