MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO, Makeda “Dread” Cheatom founded the WorldBeat Center (WBC) in Balboa Park and began hosting the 91X Sunday-night Reggae Makossa program. Her goal—fostering a broader appreciation of various cultures—resonates both locally and globally.
Dedicated to presenting and preserving African and indigenous cultures, the WBC welcomes visitors of all ages with low-cost classes and presentations in dance, drumming and art, including classes for the developmentally disabled. Its Day of the Drum Global Music and Dance Festival is October 8. The center’s garden is a springboard for school projects in collaboration with local organic farmers and the Ocean Beach People’s Co-op.
Growing up in Barrio Logan during the 1950s, Cheatom learned the importance of community. A child of alcoholic parents, she assumed an adult role at a young age. “No one read to me, but I had a lot of mamas,” she says. The migrant workers of Barrio Logan took care of her as a girl. “One lady put tamales in my mailbox,” Cheatom says. “Another gave me money to catch the bus.”
With training in culinary arts from San Diego Mesa College, Cheatom opened the Prophet vegetarian restaurant in the 1970s. The Prophet, now in-house during WBC’s celebrations, was then located on University Avenue and attracted well-known patrons such as Gloria Swanson and George Harrison of the Beatles. “George got mad at me because I wouldn’t let him smoke,” Cheatom says.
Today, with 25 years as a radio personality (she is also on OneWorldReggae.com and BigUpRadio.com; hosting each show once a week in addition to Reggae Makossa on 91X), Cheatom is an influential role model. “I’m godmother to thousands of children. When I’m on the radio, I’m talking to my kids,” she says.
Youth have a resounding place at the WBC; they learn public relations skills, stage lighting and video, and they assist in producing shows. A teen group built its own sound studio at the center, which also has radio and TV stations, as well as a recording label.
In 2005, Cheatom founded the Give a Hug Foundation after visiting an orphanage in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. In addition to the orphanage, beneficiaries include Hurricane Katrina victims, a Burmese preschool in Thailand, refugees in Ghana, a library in Costa Chica, Mexico, and a cultural center in Peru.
“Helping others makes me less greedy,” Cheatom says. “People should try it; it’s a good antidote. You’re supported by a sacred energy. We’re taught that happiness is outside, in acquiring. Be still and look at what’s inside.”