Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Harambee Festival fulfilling its name of bringing the community together

The Harambee Festival presents Dallas residents with a unifying and uplifting alternative to Halloween trick-or-treating (Courtesy Photo)

By: Jackie Hardy, NDG Contributing Writer

The Harambee Festival, a beloved and lasting tradition within Dallas for the past 42 years will return on Saturday, October 28 at the Martin Luther King (MLK), Jr. Community Center, located at 2922 MLK, Jr. Boulevard in Dallas.

Festival-goers will be able to enjoy food, entertainment, free health screenings, early voting, and other fun activities. The event will begin at 11 a.m. and last until 5 p.m.

In Swahili, Harambee means “let’s pull together,” and the concept behind the festival is to not only to offer a safe alternative to trick or treating, but to promote unity and diversity within the community.

“Forty-three years ago a group of people came together to do something on the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center that would be a safe alternative to trick or treating and offer something bigger than just handing out candy,” explains Willie H. Minor, Jr., accomplished actor and Harambee Steering Committee Chairperson.

Minor, a veteran actor of a long list of major motion pictures and live stage productions as well as a decorated United States Veteran, became actively involved with the Harambee Festival when he was invited to perform. He also became associated with the festival through his work with the Citizens Committee to Save our Children Inc., a non-profit organization, which he helped to start that serves as one of the Harambee Festival’s main sponsors.

This year’s theme for the festival is “Remember the Past to Secure the Future.” According to Minor, this theme was chosen to honor and reinforce the values that have been the strength and beauty of America.

“This year the theme was chosen because of the lack of unity in our community and Harambee was founded for that. We look around and see all the races and all of the cultures being separated, but we understand we must become connected as there are so many things we have in common if we can remember those positive things about America. And if we remember to go back to those roots and reinforce those values that is a part of our legacy, then we can step into the future cohesively,” he stated.

There will be a Unity Balloon Release Ceremony, which will take place at the end of the festival, which Minor feels represents the belief the only way to move forward as a community is simply to unite.

The Harambee Steering Committee is putting this to the test by challenging two prominent City officials, Dallas County Commissioner, John Wiley Price and Dallas City Council member, Dwaine Caraway of District 4 to take the first step in helping unite the community by extending an invitation to them to make amends over their very public feud that occurred last February.

“This year for the balloon release, for which we are calling ‘Hands Across MLK,” we are asking John Wiley Price and Dwaine Caraway to shake hands and squash the confrontation between them and show leadership by joining hands and showing unity at this festival,” exclaims Minor.

According to Minor, Honorable Caraway has agreed to attend the balloon ceremony, but they have not yet heard back from Commissioner Price.

Both local and out-of-state vendors will also be on-site to offer the public various consumer options ranging in retail, food, and art.

Per Minor, there are still spots available for vendors who are interested in renting a booth and payment for the booth is a minimal $50 Visa and/or Master gift card. The pre-paid gift cards will be donated to the MLK, Jr. Community Center to help families they serve in need of financial assistance.

Minor credits the Center for the creative idea to have vendors purchase booth space by providing a minimal $50 Visa and/or Master pre-paid credit card.

“For those asking for assistance through the MLK, Jr. Center, they will be able to walk out of the Center with a Visa/Master card (provided by the vendors) that they can go use to purchase food for their families allowing the Center to provide families immediate assistance,” he explains.

Minor advised it has been a grassroot effort in securing the financial support for the festival. Some of the major sponsors include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Frost Bank, DART, Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District, City of Dallas, Heaven97 and K104FM.

“The Dallas Tourism Bureau gave us $15,000,” he adds. Minor also expressed his gratitude for the constant support of the MLK, Jr. Center’s staff and for providing the space to hold the event.

“The Harambee Festival has always been a part of the MLK Center and I believe it’s been a part because it falls under the ideas of Dr. King about unity, equality, and justice for everyone. Since Harambee means unity and it’s an icon in the community it makes good sense,” shares Pamela Jones, Division Manager of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center.

Minor also expressed his appreciation for the hard efforts of the 10-member Harambee Steering Committee.

“One of the things that happened this year that I am very proud of is we had people this year who came to volunteer and wanted to be on the Steering Committee who had grown-up going to the Harambee Festivals and wanted to be a part of the planning and implementation process. ”

There will be a separate area for kids to enjoy free arts and crafts, face painting, bounce houses, and video games catering to all ages.

“There will be a free children’s area on site designated by the Arthello Beck, Jr., a famous African American artist and Watoto Village, a Swahili term meaning children,” advises Minor.

In addition to having free entertainment for kids, there will be a Halloween Paper Mache Mask contest among the students of Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD). Contest entries are still being accepted as winners of the contest will not be announced until the day of the festival.  Minor indicated trophies will be awarded to first through third place winners of every age group.

Past festival attendance has reached an average of 15,000-20,000 people according to Minor. With the potential for this year’s festival to be well-attended, security is a top priority. Minor advised there will be security provided on site by Dallas Police Department (DPD) to ensure the safety of all festival goers. He also confirmed the African Bandits, a motorcycle biker’s club, will serve as backup security for DPD.

“In the 42-year history of the festival, there have been no incidents of violence,” adds Minor.

More volunteers are still needed and volunteers must be of age 17 or older to volunteer. For those interested in volunteering, please contact Natasha Cooper at the MLK, Jr. Community Center at 214-670-8418. Also vendors interested in renting booth space, please contact Willie Minor at 214-978-7164.

For additional information and details about the upcoming event, please go to the Facebook page and/or contact the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center at 214-670-8418.

“I hope people who attend the festival will leave with a renewed vigor to get involved with their community to ensure we make it safer to raise our kids,” sentiments Minor shared regarding the action he hopes the festival will spark going forward.



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