Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc.


Mission – Vision

The Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc. (the Academy) seeks to improve lives through the arts by emphasizing that a foundational pattern for excellence begins with a well-focused mind and positive disciplined behaviors. By embracing the visual and performing arts through education, the Academy improves the cultural level of children and adults in the greater Polk County community.

“Transforming Lives Through the Arts”

The Academy is a local non-profit organization that provides music education to low-income, disadvantaged youth and adults throughout Polk County. We also bring outstanding musicians and music educators to share their gifts and talents with our community through exuberant workshops and performances.

The Academy currently offers music education in choral and instrumental music, where students learn the components of music literacy: music theory and history, sight-reading, improvisation, and preparations for recital and concert performances. Course offerings include: piano, organ, violin, drum, beginning voice, and conducting.

Our goal is to achieve the following outcomes, especially in our young students:

  • Academic achievement

  • Self-esteem

  • Team sensitivity

  • Motivation

  • Community awareness

  • Social skills

  • Memorization

  • Art appreciation

  • Stage decorum

  • Increased vocabulary and improved speaking skills

  • Creativity


Board of Directors



Dr. Jessie Davis Owens

Winter Haven, Florida

Vice President

Alonzo Williams, Jr.

Lakeland, Florida


Bettie Davis Smith (Retired)

Winter Haven, Florida

Financial Secretary

Emmaline Doles (Retired)

Winter Haven, Florida


Dr. Ravel Green (Retired)

Winter Haven, Florida


Rev. Alvin Owens (Retired)

Winter Haven, Florida

Sankofa bird looking back

Who is Dr. Jessie Owens?

Dr. Jessie Owens, founder and director of the Sankofa Chorale, is a professional music educator with a participatory leadership style and experience in delivering the required goals and objectives through innovative processes. Skillful in developing and creating workable strategies for teams and challenging situations to present a standard of excellence in school, district/state levels, church and community, Dr. Owens’ commitment to music education and the finer arts is rich, varied, and inspirational.

Dr. Owens is a native of Winter Haven and is married to Rev. Alvin L. Owens. She is a retired choral director from the Polk County School Board and has served as Adjunct Professor of Music at Florida A&M University (Lakeland) and Polk State College. She currently serves as CEO/Founder of the Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc. including the Owens Academy Young Artists; Artistic Director of the Sankofa Chorale; church musician at Hurst Chapel AME Church; and part-time piano instructor at New Beginnings High School.

Her affiliations include:

  • Florida Music Educators Association

  • Jewett Alumni Choir (Choir Director and Board Director)

  • Music and Christian Arts Ministry (MCAM)

  • AME Church/Dean of Certification/Board Member

  • Life memberships: Florida A&M University Alumni Association
    and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (Lakeland Alumni Chapter charter member)

  • Hampton University Choir Guild

  • Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA)

  • National Association of Negro Musicians (NAMN)

  • Polk Alliance for the Arts

  • Previous membership in Polk Education Association/NEA

  • American Choral Director Association (ACDA)

  • Adjudicator for the Negro Spiritual Foundation

  • Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce

In pursuing her passion at the Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc., Dr. Owens continues to enrich and elevate her community with a standard of excellence through teaching, and presenting concerts and student recitals. Through her work with the Sankofa Chorale, she maintains the relevancy of the rich musical contributions made to America by African American musicians from the African Diaspora.

Dr. Owens received the Educational Specialist and the Doctor of Education degrees from Nova Southeastern University, the Master of Arts degree in Music Education from New York University and University of South Florida, and the Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Florida A&M University with honors. While earning her Bachelor of Science degree, she studied piano with Dr. Mary W. Roberts and completed further studies in New York City with Armenta Adams Hummings Dumisani, a concert pianist from the Juilliard School of Music. As a middle school choral director, her students: were rated excellent to superior in choral, solo, and ensemble Music Performance Assessments (MPA); earned positions in All-County and All-State Choruses; and performed at Walt Disney World and other community events.                       


Sankofa Chorale

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Dr. Jessie D. Owens [center], Artistic Director

Dr. Anita Majors [front row, 2nd from left], Assistant Director

The Sankofa Chorale hails from Winter Haven, Florida, known as the beautiful city of 100 lakes. The chorale is an outgrowth of the Jewett Alumni Association Choir which was the only high school for African-American youth from 1942 until 1969. Originally, the main objective of the alumni choir was to sing for the annual high school reunion. In 2007, the Alumni Singers decided to present concerts to raise scholarship funds for the Jewett Alumni Association.

In October of 2012, Dr. Jessie Owens opened the Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc., and the Sankofa Chorale was born. Choral member Elizabeth Birdsong became acquainted with the term Sankofa, from her annual sojourn to the “Motherland,” and submitted Sankofa as the new name for the Chorale. The other members were impressed with the history and meaning of Sankofa and unanimously agreed to adopt the new name.


Our mission statement is derived from the Sankofa bird of the Akan language of Ghana in West Africa, from King Adinkra. The Sankofa symbol depicts a mythical bird which holds an egg symbolizing the future in its beak. The bird moves forward while looking backwards to the past. The symbol is expressed in the Akan language as “Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki.” Literally translated, this phrase means “It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.” However, modern translations usually render it as, one must return to the past in order to move forward. In either case, the message of the symbol is that we must learn from the past in order to build a better future. The Sankofa bird encourages African Americans, who now live in a “new” homeland to “go back to our roots’’ in the  Motherland, to learn who we are and gain knowledge and wisdom from our past in order to build a better future. If you don’t understand your past, you will not be equipped to move forward into the future.


The Sankofa Chorale sings various genres of music, e.g., spirituals, gospels, jazz, hymns, and European classics. However, we strategically endeavor to support and embrace the African-American culture as an extension of the African Diaspora. We strive to demonstrate a universal level of excellence through concert performances and singing at various community events. Our membership is composed of individuals of diverse backgrounds and professions. The Sankofa Chorale members have bonded together in unity to share their gifts in song through their love of music.


Photo Gallery

Owens Academy Young Artists


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February 2020 Bese Saka Festival


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February 19-20, 2021 Bese Saka Festival

A people are “poor” when they lack knowledge of their heritage and culture!

Based on CDC, state, and local health guidelines related to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, our fourth annual 2021 Bese Saka Festival program (Festival) will be held February 19–20, 2021, during Black History Month, to celebrate the cultural contributions of the African American Diaspora through music, dance, and spoken word events at the spacious Fine Arts Theater at the Winter Haven campus of the Polk State College. The master of ceremony and guest clinician will narrate the history and interpretation of the various genres of musical performances. The Festival emphasizes the preservation of the African American Spiritual/compositions, and is designed to educate and showcase other music genres such as the blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, etc., created from the Spiritual. Perfected choral arrangements of these classic genres are rarely performed or taught in this region!

In addition to the Sankofa Chorale and the Owens Academy Young Artists, we are excited to bring the following accomplished musical, vocal, and dance artists to the 2021 Bese Saka Festival.!

Dr. Raymond Wise, Bloomington, IN, holds a BFA in Music from Denison University, Ohio and completed additional studies in Opera, Art, and German at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna, Austria and in African American History, Music, and Dance at San Francisco State University. He holds a Master’s in Music Education and received his Doctorate in Music Education from Ohio State University. Dr. Wise has recorded 600+ compositions and has been published by Hinshaw, GIA, Abingdon Press, and the United Methodist Publishing House. He has performed at Carnegie Hall (NYC), and at the Kennedy Center and the National Cathedral (Wash., D.C.), the Apollo Theater (NYC), the Berlin Philharmonic Hall (Germany), the Smetana Hall (Czech Republic), the Shenzhen Grand Theater (China), and the Jamsil Gymnasium Olympic Stadium (Korea). Dr. Wise is the Founder/President of Raise Productions’ Center for the Gospel Arts, a gospel music production and publishing company in Columbus, OH.

Guest Clinician

Performing Groups

Florida A&M University (FAMU) Concert Chorale

Tallahassee, FL

Dr. Mark Butler

Dr. Mark Butler


Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African American Song

Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African American Song (CCSPAAS)   Chattanooga, TN

Michael Jerome Mitchell, Jr.


Florida Fellowship Super Choir

Florida Fellowship Super Choir

Tampa, FL

Min. Corey P. Edwards

Executive Director

Kuumba Dancers & Drummers

Kummba Dancers

Tampa, FL

Myron & Natalie Jackson


Amadi Azikiwe, Concert Violinist

New York City, NY

Solo Artists

Gale Murphy

Gale Jones Murphy, Concert Pianist

Orlando, FL

Vaness Hawkins

Vanessa Hawkins, Guest Vocalist

Orlando, FL

This two-day event is comprised of choral workshops, fellowship, and meals for the artists, concluding with the dramatic Bese Saka Festival performance.

Come back to the site for updates and/or links to purchase tickets.


Signup below for updates as the event draws near.

The Dr. J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, Inc. is grateful for past support from the following organizations:

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