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August 23, 2014, 5:26 am

Harambee celebrates African customs

Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School lived up to its namesake by hosting three events earlier this week that illuminated several African customs.

Harambee — which when translated from its Swahili origin, means “all put together” — hosted two performance assemblies and a community-wide “Umoja Karamu”, which means “Unity Feast” in Swahili. The school has hosted these events since its inception, said James Watts, the school’s math teacher who also serves as special program coordinator.

“It’s an affirmation of the community and celebration of Umoja, the first of the African principles. We’re really trying to emphasize all the principles, but Umoja is excellent because everyone is sharing,” said Watts, who noted that every student and all the staff and faculty are expected to bring in a dish for the feast. “The main principles, like Umoja and Ujima (‘collective work’) and responsibility get emphasized, as every member of the school is asked to bring in a dish. Our senior 8th graders take a special role in serving the food. I haven’t seen anything quite like this in any other school setting.”

The school celebrated on Monday and Tuesday, which included performances by the Beautifully Educated African Unified Dance Ensemble, the school choir and the NGOMA drum ensemble. The feast was held on Wednesday.

The K-8 Harambee Institute first came into existence in the mid-70s as the Independent Black Institution, which formed out of a prolonged teacher strike in the Philadelphia School District. At that time, two of the institution’s founders — John Skief and Kaleb Whitby — set up several educational hubs in West Philadelphia, and the name “Harambee” was born from that series of moves.

Harambee Institute became one of the city’s first charters schools shortly after the state passed the Charter School Law in 1997.

And staff members such as Watts make sure the school lives up to its lofty name.

“This is a material way to teach the lessons, and is something very direct, because who doesn’t love food and festivity,” said Watts. “This is a way, in the most basic sense, to reaffirm our unity and love for one another.

“Particularly at this time of year, with people celebrating family and unity. There’s a lot of love to go around, and culturally, by preparing food and eating together is way that we show we are keeping with our African principals.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .