SHARING WISDOM—Founder and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association, Rashad Byrdsong, after meeting with Devaughn Lyle, Tyonna Bey and Dejahne Fullard. All are instrumental to the success of the annual Harambee Ujima Black Arts Festival in Homewood, Aug. 2-4.
by Diane I. Daniels, For New Pittsburgh Courier
“Breathing Life Into The Community” is the theme for the annual Harambee Ujima Black Arts Festival, Aug. 2-4 in Homewood. Explaining the concept, George Hogan relays that the word “Harambee” is part of the Bantu Swahili language. A Kenyan tradition, the Harambee is a call of self-help, meaning “all pull together.” Ujima, the third Kwanzaa principle, means “collective work and responsibility.”
Hogan, chair of the host organization Harambee Ujima Black Art and Culture Association, says Harambee is a collective work of Black power taking responsibility for the matters of Black lives. A resurgence of the 1969 Black Arts Festival, he says that “today Harambee is recognized as the Spirit of the Panther providing an African American trade footprint demonstrated by the arts as the catalyst promoting social and economic sustainable well-being. The call of Black Power collectively taking responsibility for the matters of Black Lives represents the regional Black Diaspora tradition history of responsible trust to fill mankind’s covenant with creation.”
The organizers also are striving for the festival to serve as a tool to eliminate negativity in youth culture and to empower young people to understand their individual and collective beauty. Like the previous two years, they are working with students participating in the Partner4Work Learn & Earn Summer Youth Employment Program. The students are responsible for conducting interviews concerning the Harambee, writing the feature article for the Harambee program booklet, designing flyers, writing and recording a commercial playing on WAMO 100.1 FM, designing mini-videos and conducting some of the Harambee Festival social media.
The students, Tyonna Bey, Diamond Clark, Dejahne Fullard and Devaughn Lyles, are 14 years old, and and Deonna Beck is 17. They are working out of Level Up Studios, 4836 Penn Ave.
“It’s a pleasure having the students work out of our space,” said Mario Quinn Lyles, one of the co-founders and the executive director. “What we do here fits right in with what they are learning.” Lyles describes Level Up Studios as a creative arts studio offering dance and martial arts training, design services, music production, photography, creative writing courses and piano lessons under one roof. “Inspired by hip-hop culture, Level Up celebrates its positive roots and serves as a creative playground for underserved youth, local artists, musicians and cultural enthusiasts,” he said.
Other partners in the venture include Shaun Mbaten, chief financial officer, and Patrick Everett, creative director.
“Keeping in line with what the Harambee Festival is all about, it’s imperative that the students work with the committee to promote the event,” says Sahaar Lyles, who’s also involved with Level Up Studios and working with the students. “They are the future and the ones who will one day carry on the tradition of the festival.” Chief Executive Officer and owner at Nubian Impulse & Company, last year Sahaar Lyles organized the Afro Nubian Parade. Nubian Impulse is an online magazine and shop catered towards creating a platform for artists, writers and influencers to transform the narrative of people of color in media. “Our goal is to instill a sense of cultural pride and spiritual enlightenment through media and publications,” she describes.
Partner4Work is the workforce development organization that connects funding, expertise, and opportunities to develop a thriving workforce in the Pittsburgh region. Its mission is to lead the development, integration, and implementation of a world-class workforce development system in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. One of its many programs, Learn & Earn is a six-week summer job program for teens and young adults ages 14 to 21 living throughout the region. The program provides participants the opportunity to earn money, gain valuable work experience, and to develop soft skills to help them become college and career ready.
With the mission to improve the lives of Homewood’s children and simultaneously reweave the fabric of the community in which they live, the president and CEO of the Homewood Children’s Village, Walter Lewis says employing students of the Learn & Earn Program perfectly fits their plan. “This is our fifth year participating and I am pleased to be a part of such a very valuable program. Each year student participation increases, and we have over 24 worksites throughout Homewood and parts of the east end. The Harambee site just happens to be one.”
In 1967, the Homewood organization Together Inc. hosted the first Harambee Black Arts Festival igniting a Black Arts Movement in Pittsburgh. “While a cultural legacy was built, a platform for Black artists to market their work and spur economic and social development also formed,” Hogan said.
Today’s Harambee Black Arts Festival has The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation as major financial supporters. The Thomas Merton Center serves as the fiscal agent.
Activities for the weekend will kick off Friday, Aug. 2, with a parade and the Saturday (Aug. 3) and Sunday (Aug. 4) events will include food and retail vendors, live music, poetry and dance performances, nonprofit organization information tables, a Children’s Village, a Healthier You wellness section and the Legacy Arts Gallery. Most activities are centered around Kelly Street and North Homewood Avenue and are projected to begin at 11 a.m. For more information, call 412- 606-1997.
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