A Standing Ovation for Harambee

Harambee Ministries honors three longtime members at its annual gala
Published on Sep 24, 2023

More than forty years ago, Dr. John Perkins, a preacher from Mississippi, heard a word in the Kiswahili language: “Harambee!” Simply translated, it meant, “Let’s get together and push!”

Kenyan villagers would use the word to gather and address a problem.

The word is also the official motto of the country of Kenya, adopted in 1963, on the occasion of Kenya’s independence.

Perkins took that word to Northwest Pasadena, a neighborhood of challenges that Perkins saw as a neighborhood of opportunity.

With his wife Vera Mae founding the “Good News Club,” the organization grew, as it added after-school activities, tutoring, computer classes, and eventually developed the Harambee Preparatory School and Harambee Pre-school.

Along the way, it added major partners like Disneyland, the Rose Parade, and the LA Phil, as well as smaller, local community-based partners, such as Handel’s Ice Cream and Perry’s Joint.

Harambee celebrated those 40 years of community and partnership on Saturday evening in the Mountain View ballroom at Castaways in Burbank, as it honored three of its longtime members at its “Standing Ovation” gala.

“Tonight is a celebration of this last year of accomplishment, and also a preview of what is to come,” said Harambee Executive Director Angela Lee. “Our whole premise is that we can’t do good work in the community as one person. We need everyone to come together. We’re not an island.”

The three Servant Leadership Award honorees–Maria Toliver, Tina Williams, and John Decuir, were introduced by Harambee students on whom they’d made their own individual impact.

Toliver was introduced by Harambee Scholar Kaliyah Warmsley, who outlined her educational and professional career with PUSD, and highlighted the fact that Toliver was the mother of three Marshall Fundamental School students.

“It’s an honor to be honored tonight,” said honoree Tina Williams, who was introduced by Harambee Scholar Will Bigby, “but many hands lighten the load. There are many people who came before me, and many people who will help continue the legacy of Harambee.”

Honoree John Decuir was introduced by his son, Noah, an aspiring professional musician, who joked about his father’s musical tastes.

Keynote Speaker Noni Johnson drew tears as she described going backstage following a final semester Seniors performance.

“Every one of those students was crying, crying real tears, as they realized they would not be returning to Harambee. That’s what Harambee is like.”

Following an evening of highlights, the Harambee
Performing Arts Scholars performed a jubilant ten-minute song, dance and rap set dressed like mid-60s Black Panther Party members, complete with berets and sunglasses.

The evening ended with the dance floor packed as students, friends, teachers, volunteers and family members danced together in the true spirit of Harambee.

More information on Harambee Ministries is available at www.harambeeministries.org.

Make a Comment

  • (not be published)