Volunteer and Master of Ceremonies for cultural heritage performance at Ossian Hall Park in Annandale in the past 10 years, you might have noticed a tall guy setting up the equipment, introducing the artists, and generally overseeing the show.
That’s Lassine Doumbia, a nearby resident who’s been involved with the Friends of Mason District Park for years and has been helping put on the summer concerts at Ossian Hall Park since 2007, when the series was called Braddock Nights and held in the parking lot. He got involved because, “I wanted to make an impact on my own community.”
When the park was renovated in 2010, a small concert plaza was built, and when the park was shifted from the Braddock District to Mason, the Ossian shows were incorporated into the Spotlight by Starlight series.
Doumbia helps the Fairfax County Park Authority plan the summer concerts at Ossian, which generally showcase the music of a particular culture, helps with fundraising, and provides suggestions for musical groups. He also serves as all-around caretaker at the park, reporting fallen trees and picking up stray branches.
“For me, happiness is coming here, seeing people getting up and dancing to the music,” Doumbia says. “These are the kinds of things that bring me joy.”
Doumbia’s sense of community spirit goes back to his youth in a small farming village in the North African nation of Mali. It was a 16-mile bike ride to the nearest school, with two of his sisters on board, too, but it was well worth the journey. Many of the villagers couldn’t read or write, so they began asking Doumbia to read documents for them. “Right away I saw the benefit of going to school. I felt I could do more,” he recalls.
In rural Mali, the oldest son is usually expected to quit school after the fifth-grade to work on the family’s farm. Doumbia persuaded his father to let him continue his education in Mali’s capital, Bamako, where he got a job as a dispatcher at the U.S. embassy and then worked for USAID while completing a degree in accounting.
Doumbia immigrated to the United States in 1981 and became a U.S. citizen in 1986. Although he now works as a financial analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he has remained committed to community involvement—with regard to his current home and his roots in Mali.
Soon after immigrating, he co-founded a nonprofit organization called Jah Kente International, which brings African art, performances, and education programs to schools and churches in Washington D.C.
And remembering the long trip to his school every day, he began a project to build a school in his home village of Koungodjah. It started with three mud-brick classrooms and has since grown to six classrooms built of concrete, serving about 125 boys and girls ages 5 to 12.
His next project was building the Sibiry Doumbia Community Memorial Health Center in Koungodjah, and he’s now starting a micro-financing program to help villagers get loans to start small businesses.
“Going to an office and making money isn’t enough,” Doumbia says. “I want more than that. I want to do more for the community.”
The free shows at Ossian Hall Park are every Saturday at 7:30 through Aug. 31. Next week’s show is Russian Cultural Heritage Night, and the July 27 show features the culture of Bolivia. Bring a chair or a blanket and enjoy the region’s artistic diversity.