Hidden History: Youngstown dance group celebrates African culture

Black History Month

There's a message behind every movement

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Harambee Youth Organization is dancing and drumming its way around Youngstown for Black History Month.

There’s a history behind it; the Harambee Youth Organization has been around since 1980s.

It all started with a few college students wanting to start a youth group in the community. One of those college students was Lynette Kimako Miller, a Youngstown native who brought her love for dance to the Valley.

The group has nearly 200 dancers and drummers. Most of Harambee’s dancing comes from West Africa.

There’s a message behind every movement.

“Our dances are for everything. We have celebratory dances, we have dances to celebrate our children, we have dances to celebrate womanhood, we have wedding dances, we have funeral dances,” Miller said.

Patrick Spearman, director of Africana Studies at Youngstown State University, talked about the significance behind African dancing.

“When Africans were stolen and brought here to the shores, things were taken from them — their culture, their background, their history, everything that made them unique and African. All that was taken away from them,” he said.

Spearman said African dancing was one way for Africans to reclaim their identity.

“I see that African dancing as a means to connect back to that African past, that past that was lost. That past was stolen, that past that was taken from us deliberately, trying to connect back to that thing that we lost,” he said.

“It is representing our ancestors, representing our heritage, our culture and instilling pride and self-esteem in our youth,” Miller said.

Miller said organizations like Harambee are important for children, because it gives them a way to express themselves.

“I’m such a quiet person, and just being around everyone brought a lot of me out,” said Dejah Johnson.

Johnson has been a Harambee dancer for four years, and with having a passion for dancing, African Dancing has her heart because it’s unique.

“African dancing, you got to bring a lot more energy than regular hip-hop or jazz and stuff like that,” she said.

With the energy comes the drummer, who play a very important role during performances.

“They dance to us, so like, if we fall off a beat or we do something wrong, then it hits them,” said Christopher Jones, a drummer.

Jones has been in the organization for as long as he can remember but what he learned through being a part of Harambee is that you work together like a family.

“That’s why in Harambee we all pull together; it takes two sounds and a dance to make Harambee,” he said.

“I just want to say, we need Black History Month. We need to celebrate our history, celebrate our heritage, celebrate our culture, and we need to do that 365 days out of the year,” Miller said.

If you would like to attend one of Harambee’s Performances, you can see a schedule of upcoming events on Harambee of Youngstown’s Facebook page.

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