By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The Harambee Ujima Black Arts and Culture Association hosted its annual Arts Festival in Homewood August 2-4. The festival gives a platform to black artists, creators and business owners to showcase and sell their work. Vendors sell a wide range of products, including visual art, dresses, jewelry, and hair and skin-care products.
The first Harambee Black Arts Festival was held in 1967, the first of its kind in Pittsburgh, becoming an annual event. It was once the third-largest annual black arts festival in America. In 2001, the Harambee Ujima Black Arts and Culture Association was formed to carry on that legacy of preserving and promoting the culture of the black diaspora in Pittsburgh.
“‘Harambee’ is a Kenyan word meaning ‘together’ and ‘Ujima’ is the Kwanzaa principle meaning ‘collective work and responsibility,’” according to their website. “Harambee Ujima resides in the idea that rich African American cultural tradition combined with pools of creative talent can be used as an economic generator that will make the Black diaspora self-sustaining.”
The arts festival kicked off on August 2 with a celebratory parade, the first of many festivities. Also among the many goings-on at the festival were children’s art stations, live music, public speakers, as well as an “emerging artists” fashion show, which showcased the creations of young black designers.
Of course, the festival also featured the wares of many vendors, drawing individuals and businesses from across the city and country. One vendor, a woman named Charise, drove to the festival from Atlanta, Georgia to sell artisanal popcorn and her book about wellness. Originally from Pittsburgh, she moved to Atlanta for work, but family keeps her connected to the area.
“My family is still [in Pittsburgh], and I have two grandchildren now,” Charise said. “I’ll be here part-time since I have two grandchildren, so I decided to do the festival!”
Another vendor, a man who went by Sy, came from Columbus, Ohio with his business, African Images. They specialize in African items from across the continent, including dresses and tribal masks.
Local Pittsburgh vendors also showed up in numbers for the festival. Many have worked the festival before, like Karlissia Council, attending for her second year with her business, Karlie’s Creations.
“I specialize in duct tape creations, so I make flower pins, wallets and pouches, as well as some wall signs,” Council said.
Accessory maker Valerie Threets has attended the festival on and off for over 20 years, enjoying the camaraderie and community she feels at the festival. She began making jewelry on a whim, which has since evolved into a small business.
“I just started a couple of years ago. I looked at a pair of earrings and said ‘Oh I can do that,’ and six rack later, here we are,” Threets said.
Ultimately, the Harambee Ujima arts festival is about lifting up, lifting up the black diaspora community, lifting up black-owned businesses, lifting up public perceptions, and lifting up spirits.
“We see so many negative stories of black people in the news, and here you have people enjoying themselves, people hugging, having an Italian ice and a hot dog, hearing music,” said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “It’s a way to support each other and just go out and have a positive atmosphere.”
“This is just an awesome celebration of the black culture,” said Threets. “It’s a celebration of how wonderful black people are.”