Washburn alumna steps into role of cultivating culture

By: - June 19, 2023 10:13 am

Tonyce Jackson, coach of the Top City Step Team, works through choreography with a member of the team during their practice Wednesday at the YWCA. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The reverberation of feet powerfully striking the floor echoes off the walls as Tonyce Jackson watches dancers stomp a beat filled with a century of culture, moving in unison to a music of their own making.

The dance was part of the Top City Step Team’s Wednesday practice. Jackson began coaching the team in the fall of 2022 for Topeka High School and is trying to rebuild the team, now independent from the school, as it moves into the community.

“She is a really good coach and I don’t think we would be able to move on from past things without Tonyce,” said Dasaya Matlock, senior dancer. “Because if it wasn’t for her, I don’t think a lot of people (would have) stuck through with it, or been able to be where we are now as a community.”

YWCA Northeast Kansas is bringing attention to representation in music and people like Jackson who preserve culture through music during the third week of its Racial Justice Challenge, a monthlong series of online resources focusing on different topics affecting minority groups. The first two weeks of the challenge focused on housing and people with disabilities. The last week of the challenge will examine mental health. Kansas Reflector is a community partner in the challenge.

Stepping, a dance rooted in Black culture that incorporates the entire body to create rhythm and percussion, is uplifting for dancers and builds leadership and confidence, Jackson said. The members of the team, all high school aged, experience camaraderie as a group and have the freedom to make up their own moves and teach each other what they’ve created.

Jackson joined the THS step team her sophomore year, graduating as a member. She said after graduating, the members would still stay in touch and miss each other, and she wants future children to have the same opportunity.

“If not at Topeka High, we need to keep it,” Jackson said. “We just need to keep that alive, because it’s not where we are, it’s what the step team brings that I think is important.”

The team sometimes uses music to empower their dance.

“You don’t need music every time, but it is used, and when it’s used, it’s used for a reason, and that’s important,” she said. “And so because of the rich history that comes from African American music and where step comes from, it’s all intertwined. You can’t pull it apart, or you’ll be like rewriting history.”

Tonyce Jackson, coach of the Top City Step Team, laughs with a member of the team during their practice Wednesday at the YWCA. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)

Jackson also works as a dispatcher at the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office. A lifelong Topeka resident, she graduated from Washburn University in 2022 with a bachelor’s in integrated studies, focused on criminal justice and psychology. She recently registered for the LSAT, hoping to earn her law degree, probably also through Washburn.

Jackson said she always wanted to do activism and advocacy work in order to fight for civil rights with all marginalized groups, especially Black people.

“The youngest I remember doing any type of advocating and activism was in middle school with Trayvon Martin, and I was wandering around the middle schools with my hoodie and my Arizona tea and skittles,” she said.

During the YWCA discussion panel that kicked-off the Racial Justice Challenge, Jackson said language is incredibly important and read through lyrics of popular songs and broke down the importance of the words used.

Throughout history, white artists have performed music created by Black artists. Jackson said Black music has brought a lot of culture into America and it is important for people to have good conversations about cultural appreciation versus appropriation.

Michael Bell, president of the Tennessee Town Neighborhood Improvement Association, said during the discussion panel that he has a personal love of music and listed artists who use music for political activism. He also spoke about the 1995 Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston movie “Waiting to Exhale.”

“That title, ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ I think says a lot about the Black experience musically in this nation — the Black experience generally and musically,” Bell said. “You inhale, but then you’re in trouble if you don’t exhale. Music has been our exhale. It is amazing to me, the heights that we’ve reached musically, given the lows that greet us every morning when we wake up in this nation. It is just the most inspiring thing I think that there is.”

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Sam Bailey
Sam Bailey

Sam Bailey graduated from Emporia State University in 2023, where she majored in communication and was the managing editor for the ESU Bulletin, the campus newspaper. She was named Kansas Collegiate Media Journalist of the Year for four-year Kansas schools in 2023. She also won Journalist of the Year in 2021 for two-year schools when she was editor for the Hutchinson Community College student newspaper. She has won awards for her investigative reporting and has covered issues that include student debt, a university presidential search and the firing of 33 professors in 2022.