Oak Park school celebrates 14th year of Black History Month showcase 'Harambee'

OAK PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- From kindergarten through high school, all kids in the Oak Park school district are welcome to take part in the Harambee Black History Month performance, and the number of children continues to grow.

"I don't do it for the growth though, I do it for the children," said Donna Callender, the producer of Harambee.

The Harambee program is now in its 14th year at Longfellow Elementary School in Oak Park. Callender said it all started with a need for Black History Month programming when her kids were younger.

"I asked what happens in the school for Black History Month and at the time there was nothing going on at the school to celebrate Black History Month," she said. "As a parent I felt as though we needed to have something our children can have so that they can celebrate, be happy about and enjoy doing so we started to have the program annually."

Though her kids are now teenagers, Callender still donates her time at Longfellow to put on the event. She said it's for the children and community as a whole.

"Harambee is Kiswahili for 'let's pull together,'" Callender said. "The premise of the performance or the premise of the show is for us as a community to come together and give a production for Black History Month... I think it's great that we can have an event to show every aspect of the African diaspora. Just how that how important that culture is to us and our children."

The show includes African dance, drumming and spoken word. This year's storyline is on the importance of family. Students have been rehearsing since October to prepare for the big show.

"It's really fun," said Zakiyah White, a 9th grader at Oak Park River Forest High School. "The director will work you hard, she doesn't discriminate against age. You might be 5 or 6 years old but expects the same a 10-year-old. No one gets the short end of something. She expects everyone to pay attention and focus and I think that's a good thing to not pamper everyone."

Year after year many of the same students return and new faces pop up. Eighth grader Avrie Brown said she continues to come to help teach the next generations after her.

"I feel like it's my responsibility," Brown said. "I've been doing it so long I'd have to keep going."

Callender has expanded to create a program called "Kuumba Kids," offering Caribbean, African dance and cultural programming year round.



You can catch Harambee Friday at 7 p.m. at Longfellow Elementary in Oak Park. All are welcome and there will even be an African market that runs from 6 to 9 p.m.

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