By Kay Oxendine
When my friend Shirley crumbly worked on the film “ali”, she stated she had just experienced greatness after meeting legendary Muhammad Ali. Anyone who has been around April Whitmore Locklear for more than 10 minutes also knows that feeling.
What makes her so special and dynamic? Well, the one thing that I have always treasured about April is her determination and drive. You see, April is a very humble person who does not take life too seriously, but always seeks to find the best in everything that she is involved in.
At first glance, April’s beauty will take your breath away – she has the kind of beauty that makes one gasp and take pause. What enhances that is her down to earth personality and determination to understand and really get down to basics with everyone around her. In other words – April’s beauty is enough to open up many doors and have her sit and look pretty. In our society – women like April stereotypically don't have to do anything more than just sit there. But April chooses to be recognized for her intelligence, her humor, her generosity of heart and her humble mannerisms. That is what makes the difference between her and so many others.
I have been blessed to have known April and her family for almost 20 years, first meeting casually on the pow-wow trail, then singing beside her when Kau-ta-noh, Jrs. added backup singers. Each moment has been an absolute honor to know her.
April is currently in her 8th month of pregnancy with her son, and is needing more rest than normal. Even with this, she took time to allow me to interview her and create history by being our first featured story for our online newspaper with pow-wows.com.
From early on, April knew that she had to try harder, work harder, strive harder than most. Her parents, Sandra and Charlie Whitmore, brought April and her brother John up with a diversity of mannerisms and ideals. Always knowing of their Native Culture, April and her brother participated almost every weekend at the pow-wows. She became an advocate for her 8th grade classmates while sitting in history class at Douglas Byrd Junior High School (inner city school), Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1988. April asked her history teacher if she could teach class one day and he agreed. Since then “cultural exchange” has moved from one class room to the entire school and continues to grow each year. Dance has always been a huge part of April’s life. She began teaching other students women's traditional and modern dance while in high school and then extended her teachings to alternative schools in and outside of the surrounding counties. Students used their dance skills to perform locally as an avenue to break the stigma of an alternative school education. April saw that dance offered an outlet that they did not have before and exposure to many communities while traveling to perform.
As a teen, April was crowned miss Lumbee. Under her reign, she began a blue ribbon campaign to promote Lumbee federal recognition. Tribal communities were covered in blue ribbons–homes, businesses, cars, and Harley-Davidsons. From her first reign as Miss Lumbee in 1992, she went on to be crowned miss Indian North Carolina in1995, then Miss Indian world in 1998 at the gathering of nations pow-wow in Albuquerque, nm. Her talent that won over many judges at this national pageant was tobacco tying, a tradition that is customary to many Lumbee and eastern Indian tribes. From there, April became an aio cultural ambassador. the American for Indian opportunity (aio) ambassadors represent a cross section of the native American populations and participate in a two-year academic program, where they are able to travel and learn with graduate level faculty who guide and critique their overall work. She was exposed to national organization leaders, members of congress and the president's cabinet, while also meeting with worldwide indigenous leaders and representatives of the international community. During her travels, April performed in cultural exchange programs to include singing and dancing in Alaska and New Zealand in conjunction with hula-haka productions, Inc.
Other awards and recognition's of April included being featured in magazines such as “honey,” “well-nations,” and participated in a photo shoot with Marie Claire. she also appeared on the history channel, pbs, and the entertainment news show “extra”, a featured presenter for the 1st annual native American music awards in Connecticut with Wayne newton, the 82nd airborne special community recognition by general Shelton in 1996, a presenter first Americans in the arts in 1998, a key note speaker for the north Carolina senate well in 1999, with a focus being on elder care and youth programs, a speaker at itti conference-natives and the communication highway, was a recipient of the north Carolina citizenship award presented by governor hunt in 1998, and served on the NC dept. of correction substance abuse board- community member.
Along with all of these honors, April is a national speaker, cultural ambassador, performer, and model. she is the creator of “inspired by you”, a collection of workshops and training seminars inspired by humanity and developed to focus on youth issues, diversity, native America today, health, and well-being of all people. She is also a member of the Grammy nominated drum group, kau-ta-noh, jrs (which translates to people of the submerged pines in Tuscarora), and is a registered North Carolina artist. She sings traditional songs as well as performs tribal dances.
In 2002, April danced with nation of change dance troupe, in which she is member, with the Jeff ball ensemble at Indian summer festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On September 15th, 2002, April was given the honor of being named head dancer for the first inaugural Native American celebration in September on the national mall in Washington. She represented the eastern tribes as the southern head lady dancer at this national event and location where the last museum to be erected on the mall will be done in homage to the Native American peoples
April believes in the beauty of the human spirit. She states, “The human spirit allows us to move each other towards what is “just” despite rules, elections, and social boundaries”.
Currently, April discovers the human spirit through art. Eye7 images are a business created by April and her husband chad to give local and surrounding native people an inspiring outlook on self-image and identity. April photographs simple everyday life, models, families, and rising seniors. Her photographs are clean, untouched (that means no Photoshop) and honest. One must be comfortable on their own shoes to reach self-actualization…that begins with how we see each other. The name eye7 images come from the beauty and vision of 7 generations. This inward and outward beauty will serve as a vehicle for higher self-worth among our people. Self-worth equals less abuse, less drug use, and reaching goals we doubted once before. Can a picture do all of that? Yes, she says. The process of photography allows the person to recognize insecurities, strengths, speak of family and experience. In the beginning of a photo shoot the mouth is tight, limbs are stiff, and the face is pale. Once a person begins to share their stories the photos come alive and in the end they are able to see themselves leave the cocoon for brief moment and fly. It’s a therapeutic process and the model can reflect upon the photos as a guide to self. April is writing a book to support the guidelines for this theory; the theory has been copywrited by eye7 images. www.myspace.com/eye7images.
April is a champion of education and after graduating from Douglas Byrd high school, she received a bachelor’s degree from Campbell University. She earned masters in mental health counseling-2006 and masters in human resource development in 2008.
If and when you have the opportunity to meet April Whitmore locker, please do know that you have experienced greatness within a native woman who exudes humbleness, beauty, tradition and love through her generosity and kindness. What she wants her son to know through her teachings is unconditional love, exposure, spirituality, family, individualism, laughter, dreams, courage, open mind, failure, and success. April states: “i hope he will learn and remember how to give to everyone, take time to learn about people and new experiences. I pray he will have an open mind.”
Note: At the time April was interviewed, she was pregnant with her son Keanu. He was born earlier this year and has already won the hearts of many, just like his mom.