It's not an easy task to be responsible for a tradition more than 20 years old, but as the annual Harambee Festival enters its 21st year on Saturday, board President Damion Chapman is prepared to build off the original vision.
Harambee, Swahili for “pulling together,” is an event that focuses on the city's south-side neighborhoods, an important cause that the festival's founder, the Rev. Johanna Ice-Gold, organized and ran until she died in 2010. As her chosen successor, Chapman is at the helm for his fourth year. He says this year will be the launch pad for Harambee to become more of a community resource year-round.
“She was such a graceful woman with a vision,” he says. “I was really worried about being able to fill her shoes, but she said one thing to me that was really encouraging. She said, 'However the Lord leads you.'
“Rev. Ice-Gold wanted to come together for a festival where people could enjoy one another and fellowship – she had a heart for it, and I still have a heart for it as well, but one of the things I experienced when I first started was how the community came together and helped me.
“I thought that going forward, it would be a good opportunity for Harambee to turn around and return the favor,” he adds.
This year's festival kicks off with the annual parade featuring children from Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation's neighborhood programs. Chapman says the parade offers an opportunity for churches, businesses and other organizations to get involved.
After the parade, resources including the AIDS Task Force and Fort Wayne Rescue Mission's “Real Change, Not Spare Change” campaign will be on-site at Weisser Park. Chapman says the festival expects to serve hot dogs to more than 400 neighborhood children.
“As an organization and as individuals, we want to commit ourselves to different ventures that are going on. We want to get our hands dirty with the things going on in our community,” he says. “We want to be involved throughout the year, and the festival would be something that would commemorate the mindset of the organization.”
New this year, the one-day festival will conclude with a musical performance by the local band Last Call.
“It's such a busy day, and as we kind of wind down, everyone gets into relaxation mode, and I thought it would be a great way to take it out,” Chapman says. “We also wanted to send a message for next year that people would remember. Next year, we really want to expand. We want to be able to present a platform for every organization or resource that a person could need while still holding on to the overall theme of harambee.”
With changes in mind, Chapman says the impact remains more important than actual attendance. He says people have asked for years why the board hasn't moved the festival downtown to a more central location – but it never has been an option, Chapman says.
“One of the things (Ice-Gold and I) talked about was never getting away from the foundation. She wanted to make sure the south side of town had something to look forward to every year,” he says. “It's important that the south side maintain pride in something. There is such a bad stigma. The minute you mention the south side, you think of all the crime, violence, and poverty. We want it to be a source of hope, a source of pride, a source of dignity.”
“If it's fewer people, but a greater impact, so be it,” he says.