Harambee 2021 opens Springfield’s celebration of African-American culture

SPRINGFIELD – It almost didn’t happen due to the delta variant of COVID-19, so when the executive committee heard that the two-day Hickory Street Harambee festival could continue this year after all, word came very late .

“It opened at the last minute,” Harambee president Veronica McNair said on Saturday, “and when it opened for us, we had to hurry to get it all together, to fund this thing. rushed.

Even as she circled the playing fields behind Rebecca Johnson School in a golf cart, making sure every detail was finished, McNair said with the help of city departments and participating sponsors at the festival every year, Harambee spawns. After all, Harambee means “together” in Swahili.

“This is our fifth year bringing him back after he sort of passed out for a while,” she said. “We are trying to bring the community together one family at a time.”

The grounds were surrounded by dozens of tents each housing a different booth, some featuring different foods to tickle any palate, and products and services aimed at the African American community. Artists Evyan and Tanika Marie appeared just as their new singles were released. Terry Reynolds, Chey Energy, Ugo, Juan Rodrigues and Kaliah and his guest Latamara Smith also took the main stage.

Local fashion designers Level Up Designs by India and True N10-tions will showcase their latest designs.

Members of Youthful Expressions Dancers and Legacy Dancers and the Springfield Mass Black Diamonds Double Dutch team will perform.

Harambee began in 1968 when community activists Ray Jordan, Bud Williams, Bruce King and Margery and Justin Hurst created a festival to celebrate African American culture and creativity in Springfield.

The festival lasted for several years, but slowly faded away in the early 2000s.

“A couple of kids that I grew up with in the Hickory Street area and decided we would bring him back,” McNair said. “Harambee was a staple in the community. It was a great time in our lives and we missed it. There were other festivals but Harambee had a different vibe, a different energy. We wanted to recreate what we had when we were kids. We grew up with Harambee and looked forward to this every year.

McNair said that with the entire festival running in no time, she and committee members Freddy McDonald, Jazelle Rentas, Jeanine Fornberg and Cedric Williams turned to the city for help.

“I’ll tell you, the Mayor, Patrick Sullivan of Park and Recreation, Andrew Kay, Ray Jordan and Sheriff Nick Cocchi have said what we can do. It was phenomenal to see the city come to support and recognize our efforts.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno commended his municipal agencies for their contribution to making the festival happen, but also named McNair herself as the driving force behind.

“She put all of this in place very quickly and on a shoestring,” he said. “You can’t put a price on bringing together the beautiful mosaic of the people of Springfield. I must commend her and the committee for continuing the tradition.

In addition to the entertainment, the festival allows residents of the neighborhood to access neighborhood agencies and services that they might not have at another time.

Shamicka Jones of the Caring Health Center in Springfield brought in a team of medical workers to provide a multitude of services. “We offer walk-in COVID vaccinations, free COVID testing for those in need, and insurance navigation. If anyone needs health insurance, they can come see us and we’ll put them in touch. “

At another booth, MOCHA, Men of Color Health Awareness volunteers were ready to work with men on specific health issues that affect men.

“We’re trying to get men to take care of their health,” said Member Cecil Thompson, “get them to see their doctors, do their blood tests, check for prostate cancer, things like that . “

Thompson said the big three issues men of color face are prostate cancer, diabetes, and hypertension or high blood pressure.

Springfield Police C3 Mason Square Commanding Officer, Sgt. Derek Cook said the festival embodies the meaning of his name.

“It’s about involving the community and bringing people together rather than being separated like we have been,” he said. “We are emerging from the pandemic and even with the flair people are encouraged to come out and interact and make everyone work on the same premise – together we can.”

The festival continues today at Rebecca Johnson School at 55 Catharine Street from noon to 7 p.m.

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