Fort Wayne — The children who marched in the Harambee Festival parade on Saturday walked behind self-made banners representing the various Fort Wayne parks where they had spent their summers.
Each banner was not only a triptych of a child’s summer it was also a triptych of a festival’s history.
The 19th annual Harambee Festival happened in and around Weisser Park off Hanna Street.
A face and name that appeared on many banners was that of Rev. Johanna Ice-Gold, the festival founder who died in 2010 at age 69.
The theme of this year’s festival was “Building on a Legacy.”
In one sense, the word “legacy” refers to area parks that, like Weisser, were established 100 years ago or more. In another, it refers to the legacy that Ice-Gold, as architect of the Harambee Festival, left behind.
“You know what we miss most of all,” said Chondra Ridley, grand marshal of the parade, “is her great organizational skills.”
Unsurprisingly, Ridley said, Ice-Gold had thought far enough ahead to train her successor: current Harambee Festival President Damion Chapman.
Chapman spent three years under the tutelage of Ice-Gold, so he was more than prepared to take over for her when she passed away, Ridley said.
Among the aspects of the 19th edition of the festival that Chapman touted was a program that fed hundreds of adolescent festival-goers a free lunch.
Asked whether some of the children would have gone without lunch if they hadn’t gotten a free one, Chapman said, “Not to stereotype, but I think we are helping majorly when it comes to our free hot dogs and water today.
“A lot of these kids come from sensitive areas, at-risk areas, around here.
“We want to encourage them to do bigger and better things in life.”
In some ways, the Harambee Festival has much in common with other area festivals.
It is a day of food, fellowship, music, dance, poetry and games.
But its origins and its mission are unique.
Chapman said it was founded to “bring African-Americans in contact with their African roots.”
Harambee means “pulling together” in Swahili, he said.
Next year, Chapman intends to grow the festival by reaching out to the Hispanic and Burmese communities.
Chapman said he wants to continue honoring the festival’s roots, while expanding it so that it pulls together more people.
“That’s what we want,” Ridley said.
“We want all the communities to come together. Only if we unite will we make the city what it needs to be: a world-class city because of its diverse community.”
The festival’s last growth spurt, Ridley said, came in 2009 when it partnered with the Fort Wayne Parks Department.
“That has been a really powerful collaboration,” she said.
“It allows a lot of young people to take part. And the young people who take part today will be the ones who take over tomorrow.”
The partnership has allowed the festival to move from Pontiac Street into spacious and tree-canopied Weisser Park.
Another of Ice-Gold’s goals for the festival was to use it to help re-energize the business climate on Pontiac Street, Ridley said.
Thanks to Ice-Gold, that has largely occurred.
“Lots of businesses are thriving on Pontiac,” she said.
Next year is the festival’s 20th anniversary and Ridley promises that it will be “explosive.”