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Empresses teach realities of Rastafarianism

An early-bird crowd of approximately 25 people silently listened to the Rev. Marcia Stewart set the record straight about the real qualities of the Rastafarian religion at Kaleisia’s Tea Lounge on Tuesday night.

“There’s a lot of propaganda and rumors that have gone out about the Rastas,” Stewart said in a strong Jamaican accent.

“(Rastafarians) wrap their hair and smoke ganja (marijuana),” she said. “That’s true. But most Rastas don’t smoke or wear locks, so you don’t know who’s Rasta. It’s about the heart.”

The Empress of Zion, a women’s Rastafarian group in Tampa, wanted local residents to realize that a heart that loves God, helps the needy and recognizes the beginning of mankind that started in Ethiopia is central to the Rastafarian faith.

Based on that message, attendees such as Antonio Warren, a USF graduate, may not convert to Rastafarianism right away, but may keep learning about a new culture.

“I wanted to hear what people have to say about Rastafarians and (understand) everyone’s view,” Warren said.

Sophomore Meredith Livengood and junior Tyler Silham, who are atheists, said, “We both came for the music, the people and to hear another (religious) perspective.”

But the Empress of Zion sisters know that everyone won’t believe in Rastafarianism right away, but their goal as women of the faith was to create awareness about their creed: to build schools, help the elderly and clothe the naked.

Stewart said she travels globally to strengthen the Rastafarian community with that message.

“If each one gives a little, it will fill the basket,” Stewart said.

The proceeds from the Ethiopian drumming fund-raiser will help with the fourth annual Empress of Zion conference to be held in Atlanta in March.

Rastafarian women from the United States and the Caribbean plan to come together to learn about health issues, economics and better ways to educate children. They intend to take these ideals into various Rastafarian communities.

USF graduate Kareem Rhaodd said he upholds the Rastafarian message every day by mentoring to Tampa youth at the juvenile detention center, and he encourages people to reach out in their own way.

“I would like people to receive knowledge about the culture and people in Africa,” Rhaodd said. Stewart claims that people think many Rastafarians are working within the communities. This is not the case. According to Stewart, only a select few are actually working behind the scenes within communities.

“People think that you (need) a lot of people to get a work done,” Stewart said. “Even when you see a whole lot, only a chosen few are doing the work and a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon.”