Accepting an 8:30AM invitation to motivate a group of youth, by reading an “inspirational” story during the “Harambee,” in the process, Commissioner Rose Tydus became inspired herself on Friday, July 2, 2010 at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School, located at Teen Upward Bound (TUB), 3869 N.W. 125th Street, in the City of Opa-locka.
With a passion for education, Commissioner Tydus arrived at TUB before the start of Harambee (pronounced hah- RAHM-beh), Swahili for “lets pull together.” After the teens sang and welcomed her, Commissioner Tydus began sharing a meaningful message with the group, by reading aloud “Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood,” which was, appropriately and coincidently, a short Ethiopian tale from Northeast Africa; after which the Commissioner would continue on to her scheduled routine. However, during the exercise, an exchange occurred which enlightened her curiosity and sent her on an expedition that kept her anchored and strapped to her seat through the remaining components of the “Harambee” practice at the CDF Freedom School.
“Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood,” was found in the book, “I Can Make a Difference: ATreasury to Inspire Our Children,” by Marian Wright Edelman. Ironically, by the time Tydus finished reading the narrative, a “difference” had already been made in Commissioner Tydus, who was now inspired enough to change the course of her day. “I’ve never seen an atmosphere like it,” Tydus remarked, “with this many teens in one room,” referring to the obedience, the behavior and the unification of the group.
As Opa-locka’s reining basketball champions, today the “Freedom School” students were about to embark on a journey to Ingram Park, to compete in a flag football tournament sponsored by the Opalocka Police Department. For Tydus, this meant the seriousness of the outing and the excitement it generated, would surely yield a less attentive audience during her storytelling session, but to her surprise, the morning “Harambee,” appeared to provoke attention, concentration and an unbelievable focus, which led Tydus to begin questioning the origin of the word and the use of its application, during the summer Freedom School. “As excited as they were about the tournament, these young people remained balanced, well-mannered, and exceptionally interested in every word I read to them, but more importantly, they all displayed a tremendous amount of interested in each other;” something that became more and more apparent to Tydus during the “I have a recognition…” portion of Harambee, when these 12-18 year-olds began randomly raising their hands for recognition by “Servant Leaders,” so that they might be selected to “recognize” an accomplishment, a special occasion or any other important observation that related to a fellow classmate or staff member. “Was the conduct in behalf of my visit?” Tydus contemplated, until she learned that Harambee was a morning exercise that achieves the same results EVERY day at the school.
In Kenya, Harambee began as a community self-help or activity development event. It may range from informal affairs, lasting a few hours, to formal multi-day events, as ways to build and maintain communities. In 1963, the first Prime Minister (later first President of Kenya), Jomo Kenyatta adopted “Harambee” as a concept of pulling the country together to build a new nation; encouraging communities to work together to raise funds for all sorts of local projects.
At the TUB CDF/Freedom School, “Harambee” is translated into a daily, 30 minute tradition of informal sharing, where students and staff unite in a group-affirming celebration and preparation for the work ahead. “Harambee” consist of five components (reading aloud, motivational songs, cheers/chants, recognition, moment of silence and announcements), which “kickstarts” a positive attitude at the onset of each day.
Currently in 79 cities, Freedom Schools began in the U.S. in 1964, during the Civil Rights era. Opa-locka has the only level four ‘school’ in the State of Florida. The CDF Freedom Schools program teaches tools and boost student motivation to read, generates optimistic attitudes toward learning, and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities; platforms which Commissioner Tydus has always promoted during her initiatives.
Playful, challenging, creative and motivational upbeat songs, claps, chants and/or cheers either proceed or follow each component of “Harambee,” offering congratulatory remarks or with the intent of encouraging constructive contribution, optimism, productivity and accomplishment. According to Chandra D. Russell, Assistant Program Director/Site Coordinator, “To work with the CDF Freedom School, each “Servant Leader Intern” is required to attend leadership training at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee” where they learn about Harambee. Like Commissioner Tydus, other community leaders and parents are encouraged to engage in “Harambee.” In fact, Mayor Joseph L. Kelley and Vice Mayor “Lady” Myra Taylor equally enjoyed the Harambee experience when they read to the students a few days later.
“The moral of ‘Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood,’ confirms that falsehood can rule, only if truth stops struggling to be heard,” Tydus concluded, before segueing to the truth about what she learned today during her visit to the Freedom School. “I’ve gained a priceless lesson on the effects of structured activities, harmony, communication, and on the ways an exchange of positive energy, through “Harambee,” can build a regime of organization, strength, discipline, agreement, understanding, cooperative learning and mutual respect among young people.” With reference to one of the exercises in “Harambee,” Tydus declared, “One does not have to win at a sport to be a champion team player. With that said, I’m inspired to ‘recognize’ Director Jannie Russell and her staff for their skills and professionalism in cultivating championship attitudes among these youth, through the superb operation of a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at Teen Upward Bound, in the City of Opa-locka!”