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Harambee Festival hopes to change narrative of south side

August 4, 2018

For the 25th annual Harambee Festival, director Damion Chapman wanted to bring it back to where it all began: Pontiac Street.

The festival Saturday featured live music and local acts, a resource fair, a kid’s space and various business vendors.

Swahili for “let’s all pull together,” Harambee Fest was founded by Johanna Ice-Gold in 1992.

Pontiac Street was a prominent area of business for the black community, and after an incident on the street, she wanted to unify the community.

“It was mainly about celebrating black culture, black business and education to empower an area of the city that had been riddled with gang violence and things like that,” Chapman said.

Chapman took over as director after Pastor Ice-Gold died in 2010, and this year, he wants the festival to serve as a platform for new initiatives.

“We want to overall begin to use this to just change the narrative about the south side of town. You know, poverty, drugs, guns and violence,” Chapman said. “We understand that sometimes it’s just a small push that makes all the difference in the world.”

In addition to the festivities, a parade was held at the beginning of the festival to remember loved ones lost to violence.

“We thought we could use the parade as a march or a walk, just to stand against the recent violence that’s happened in our community,” Chapman said.

For James Trimble, grandson of Ice-Gold, the event is all about legacy. He was excited to see the event back on Pontiac Street.

“It’s right in the avenue of what we want to do, as far as black businesses and entrepreneurship,” Trimble said. “Right here on Pontiac is just a vital, vital area.”

Trimble’s mother, Denise, watched her mother create Harambee, and she said it’s amazing to see how far Ice-Gold’s vision has come.

“A lot of times when people come here, they see people they haven’t seen in years, so it’s like a big community reunion,” she said. “The vendors, they always do well, and their businesses will get exposed.”

Annette Kelley, a vendor who has attended the festival since 2005, was setting up her table for Annette’s TLC Baskets and More.

Harambee allows her to see what other vendors are doing and also helps her support the community.

“I wanted to get out there, because one day I want to have my own building,” Kelley said. “I believe in helping the community, because some people don’t have as much.”

Chapman said he isn’t sure if they’ll continue to hold the festival on Pontiac Street, or if they will return to their previous spot at Weisser Park, but he looks forward to the future.

“I want the community to understand that this part of town has such a stigma on it, but I want them to know that there is much to appreciate about the south side of town, much to appreciate about the people of the south side of town,” Chapman said.

cstefanski@jg.net

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