Harambee: A Tradition of Positive Race Relations in Rocky Mount, NC

Positive Race Relations in Rocky Mount, NC

Imagine a pristine seashore along the coast of Africa.  As the sun slowly sinks toward the horizon, voices float along the salty air, creating a rhythmic melody:

Harambee . . . Harambee . . .

This chant is the song of the fishermen who work together to pull their nets in to shore, nets that are full of the day’s catch.

It is a call that means “all for one,” or “all pull together.” This Swahili term is steeped in community tradition.

Historically, it’s the call fishermen make when they pull their nets to shore or the encouragement workers give to one another when completing a large project. The word has frequently been used in Kenya to describe events that benefit the entire community, such as fund-raisers or community development activities. The word even has a place of honor as the official motto of Kenya, and it is prominently displayed on the country’s coat of arms.

Harambee Festival: A Rocky Mount Tradition

The call of the fisherman may not be heard in Rocky Mount, North Carolina,  but the spirit of Harambee echoes through the streets with jazz, traditional drums, and a spirit of community during the city’s annual Harambee Festival.

Each year,  the Rocky Mount/ Edgecombe Community Development Corporation (RMECDC), the Phoenix Historical Society, Inc., and the City of Rocky Mount sponsor the annual Harambee Festival.  The festival celebrates the African-American heritage of Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe counties. But as its Swahili roots indicate, Harambee is about much more than just heritage; it’s about unity, pulling together for the good of the community, and providing groundwork for positive race relations.

Rocky Mount downtown history

Music For A Community's Soul

For the last three years, the Harambee Festival has been held in the restored, historic Douglas Block of Downtown Rocky Mount.  The Douglas Block – located at the corner of Main Street and East Thomas Street - takes its name from the Douglas Building, which was the previous home of the Douglas-Armstrong Drug Company. The Douglas Block represented the thriving African-American business district during the segregation period.

The Harambee Festival combines the jazzy musical traditions of Thelonious Monk with the celebratory spirit of the Juneteenth Community Empowerment Festival.  Juneteenth is a historic celebration commemorating the end of slavery.

The Harambee Festival features incredible musical performances.  Other events include traditional African dances, step shows, bands, vendors, and even a bike radio. Last year’s event even featured the North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers.

If you enjoy the Harambee Festival, you may also like the music that flows from bands throughout the summer at Downtown Live.


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