42nd Harambee starts with a bang Saturday

Jul. 29, 2014 @ 08:22 AM

In 1972, a group of community leaders in Lenoir started a small festival to showcase local talent – The Black Arts Festival, presenting paintings, drawings, sculptures, dancing and more.

Over the years it grew and gained traction, growing into a weeklong celebration of community in Caldwell County, changing its name to Harambee, a Swahili word meaning “all pull together.”

And that’s just what happened. Over the past four decades, the longest-running festival in Caldwell County pulled together a diverse group of people to celebrate unity and togetherness and strengthen community ties.

This Saturday, the 42nd Annual Harambee Arts Festival kicks off, and for nearly a week will feature events and activities that folks in Caldwell County have come to look forward to each summer.

Family Fun Day will kick off the festival with force Saturday, this year making a few tweaks that have director Lester Whittington, also supervisor of the Martin Luther King Center, expecting a great turnout.

“The goal every year is to reach out,” said Whittington, who attended that first Black Arts Festival and is in his 21st year of directing the Harambee Festival. “We want all cultures here, we want everybody to come participate.”

New this year will be Game Night next Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the MLK Center. A $5 entry fee gets you to the tables for bingo, dominos, spades and more. Whittington said the addition is garnering plenty of attention, so he hopes it will draw more people into the festival.

This year at the Family Fun Day, the event Whittington is most looking forward to, kids under 16 will no longer have to pay for the water slides and rides, thanks to the donations of several community organizations.

“The kids don’t have to do anything but come enjoy themselves,” Whittington said, noting that backpacks will also be given to all those 16 and under who come out to the MLK Center on Saturday. Children 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

Family Fun Day kicks off at 11 a.m., with inflatables, horse rides, a train ride through the neighborhood, face painting, food and other vendors, and a NASCAR show.

Favorites like the Miss Harambee Pageant and the J.H. Jones All-Star and Old School Basketball Game keep the festival going Sunday and Monday, though more young ladies are needed for the women’s game, Whittington said, adding that any interested women can sign up until Aug. 1.

The pageant will be 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the old Lenoir High School Auditorium, and the basketball games will be at the MLK Center, starting at 5 p.m. Monday.

Tuesday’s Senior Citizen Banquet, 6 to 8 p.m. at the MLK Center gym, is something Whittington has heard community members say they’re looking forward to, just like Whittington, who said he can’t wait to see it.

On Thursday 6 to 8 p.m. is the Recognition Banquet, and the festival will finish up Friday at 8 p.m. with the Old School Dance featuring Beatrice Thompson from V101.9FM, both at the MLK Center gym.

For more information, call the Martin Luther King Center at 828-757-2170.