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To Pray In my Native Tongue - New Orleans, La.

To Pray In my Native Tongue explores New Orleans enduring African spiritual practices rooted in Yoruba, Voodoo, Mardi Gras Indian culture and music. Explore the African spiritually of a city which never really lost the connection to many aspects of African ancestral culture. A city of Africans on the Mississippi.


Africans on the Mississippi


     Cuttin” Cane is an award-winning short film about Donaldsonville, Louisiana. An episodic glimpse of the five-part docuseries, Africans on the Mississippi, Donaldsonville is one of the numerous communities created by the plantation system which flourished along the Mississippi River. The plantations are long gone but the descendants remain with fascinating stories to tell.


     Cuttin’ Cane invites viewers inside a story circle conversation with community elders, gathered at the River Road African American Museum to share memories of life growing up and living in plantation country. This in-depth conversation is joined by RRAAM Interim Director Darryl Hambrick providing in-depth historical context while director/photographer, Christine Brown, captures intimate on-location interviews, together with sweeping panoramic drone footage of sugar cane fields and surrounding areas.


     Cuttin” Cane has won the IndieFest Film Awards as well as selected for the Hollywood South Urban Film Festival, Golden Short Film Festival and The Black Panther Film Festival.

LearningTree Productions Presents Africans on the Mississippi


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Africans on the Mississippi

Africans on the Mississippi 

Africans on the Mississippi explores the fascinating African American connection to water as well as the lasting impact of the music, culture, spirituality and historical genealogical track directly connecting the Gambia and Senegal to the African people who worked and died on Mississippi River plantations that Nichole Hannah-Jones in The 1619 Project described as “..forced labor camps.”

Descendants of Africans currently living on the Mississippi River have fascinating historical and cultural connections through the numerous communities created by the hundreds of plantations that once prospered along the river. The plantations are long gone but descendants of the people who labored there, remain. Africans on the Mississippi tells their stories.


To Pray In my Native Tongue - New Orleans, La.

African ancestorial spiritual practices are the foundation of New Orleans culture which is deeply rooted in ancestral traditions that survived, despite slavery. Meet practitioners of traditional African religions, which has seen a rise in new initiates seeking to reconnect with their African ancestry through Voudon, Yoruba, and traditional African religious practices. To Pray in My Native Tongue explores the critical role of Congo Square in maintaining those traditions.  Viewers will gain a deeper understanding of Mardi Gras Indian culture, food and music foundationally connected to Africa as we explore the spirituality of the most African city in North America.


The Mississippi River Road

Traveling the Mississippi River Road is like entering a time capsule, connecting dozens of communities created by the hundreds of plantations that once flourished along this river. The plantations are long gone but the rich culture that left an indelible imprint on America and the world, remain. Africans on the Mississippi, documenting stories of the Mississippi River Road.


Forks in the Road - Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez was once the wealthiest cities in North America primarily due to “Forks in the Road”, the location of one of the largest markets for buying and selling of stolen African people. Natchez is a treasure trove of manumission papers, photographs, documents, and oral histories preserved by families, both Black and White who are connected yet separated by skin color. Memories buried deep in a culture unsure of how to address the truths of who they are. The story of Natchez, Mississippi longs to be told as Africans on the Mississippi again takes the viewer straight through to the thing itself. 


Orange Mound - Memphis, Tennessee

Following the 1862 Union takeover of the city, Memphis became predominantly populated by enslaved people fleeing plantations to join the Union Army. In 1866 a “race riot” fueled by Irish policemen and angry whites, killed forty-six Blacks. Following the Civil War, newly freed people established Orange Mound as the first community built solely for and by Africans Americans. By 1970, Orange Mound became the largest Black community outside of Harlem, New York. Memphis was also home to journalist Ida B. Wells one of the most powerful and influential African Americans of the nineteenth century and birthplace of the Church of God in Christ founded by African American Bishop C.H. Mason which grew to become the fifth largest Christian denomination. Africans on The Mississippi explores the rich history of Bluff City.


The Return – Balanta People of Guinea Bissau, Gambia & Senegal, West Africa

This final episode brings our series full circle with an African American family meeting their Balanta family. On African soil. We explore tribal connections, interview historians about generational links to ancestors lost to the Mississippi River. Travel with us as we pay homage to the stolen people held in prisons built on James Island and Goree Islands prior to being forced into the holds of slave ships.


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Behind the Scenes



Spencer Howard

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Founder | Educator | Writer | Director | Producer

LearningTree Productions LLC, established in 1995 as an educational resource company, has evolved into documentary film production with the same goal of using the arts to provide culturally enriching, educational experiences.


LTP mounted, in 1995, its first professional production, Spirit of the Drum, at the Valley Arts Theater in Tempe, Arizona. The play toured throughout Arizona, earning Artistic Director Spencer Howard a playwrighting fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Moving to Louisiana in 1999, LTP contracted with the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, community organizations and the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools System to provide theater arts education activities for underserved youth.






In 2003, LTP, in partnership with Health Care Centers in Schools, created the Capitol High Drama Teens after-school theater program at Capitol High School to use theater to train peer educators to address teen health issues. Their first production, Breaking the Cycle, addressed teen pregnancy, drugs, gang violence, academic failure, and date rape. The Capitol High Drama Teens performed throughout Louisiana, always followed by in-depth dialogue with audiences. 

In 2004 LTP entered into a five-year partnership with Health Centers in Schools and The W.K. Kellogg Foundation to use theater to engage teens in becoming advocates for federal supports of a national initiative to create school-based centers nationwide. LTP developed and facilitated workshops that taught teens to lobby state legislators while facilitating national workshops teaching others to do this work.

In 2005, LTP partnered with Save the Children, using theater to bridge the gap between Baton Rouge and New Orleans youth following the traumatic events of Hurricane Katrina. LTP created workshops which culminated in the stage production, Remembering the Gift which provided teens with a voice and opportunity to share their traumatic experiences.

In 2006, LTP partnered with a coalition of community organizations and BREC (Baton Rouge Parks & Recreation) to create the first full-service teen center in Baton Rouge. The Free Dreams Teen Center provided after school tutoring, computer lab, library, canteen, dance and theater programs.

LTP developed the Free Dreams Theater Company to create productions that continued addressing teen health issues. Somebody Should Have Said Something  highlighted teen dating violence and was in demand from schools, churches, and community organizations throughout Baton Rouge.

In 2007 LTP contracted with the office of the Louisiana Attorney General to tour the production Bad Decisions as part of their teen anti drinking and driving program, You Drink, You Drive, You Walk. Bad Decisions toured throughout Louisiana presenting performance-based workshops addressing alcohol as one of the leading causes of teenage deaths.

Over the years, LTP produced numerous plays including Spirit of the Drum, which toured throughout Arizona earning Spencer a playwrighting fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. His play Freedom Summer, about the youth and music of the civil right movements has been produced numerous times around the country and was chosen by Dillard University as part of their celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project aka Freedom Summer.

In 2014 LTP published Theater in the Classroom written by Spencer Howard to equip teachers, having no theater experience, with tools to integrate theater into their curriculum. As a Founding Fellow of the George Rodrique Foundation for the Arts, Louisiana A+ Schools, LTP developed and facilitated professional development workshops for schools accepted into the A+ Schools program of total arts integration.

Using techniques learned at Kennedy Center, Artist as Educators Seminars, Planning and Presenting Effective Teacher Workshops, Spencer conducted numerous teaching artist residencies while facilitating professional development workshops for Louisiana A+ Schools and teachers in East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

Fast forward to 2019, after many years as a classroom teacher, playwright and theater artist, Spencer became Artist in Residence at the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, writing and producing the critically acclaimed short film, Africans on the Mississippi – Cuttin” Cane as a preview to a five-episode docuseries, Africans on the Mississippi. Africans on the Mississippi is currently slated for release in the fall of 2023.

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