"Harambee" is the Swahili word for unity. It's also the title of a touching drama about African American cultural identity and one family's struggle to deal with neighborhood violence.
This unequivocally instructional work (which airs tonight on KCET and KOCE) aims to teach viewers about the principles surrounding Kwanzaa, the African American celebration that is observed annually between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. "Harambee!" is divided into seven sections. Though the film tells one linear story, each of its segments encompasses a different Kwanzaa tenet whether it be Kujichagulia (self-determination) or Ujamaa (cooperative economics).
The drama's rather formal construction can't help but create a certain classroom-like ambience that some might find off-putting. But for the most part, writer-director Fracaswell Hyman manages to circumvent this problem by creating very human characters who are forced to confront the all too real troubles of the inner city.
"Harambee!" is very much a tribute to the power of the African American woman. Yvonne Barnes (Brenda Pressley) is a loving mother whose husband's death has left her with the difficult task of raising her 11-year-old son JoJo (Aaron Beener) and teen-age daughter Shanora (China Jesusita Shavers) by herself. She fights valiantly to keep her kids from being consumed by the destructive gang elements that stalk the streets of her low-income Brooklyn neighborhood. Yvonne, her endearingly spunky mother Queenesther (Novella Nelson) and sister Maxine (Paula Newsome) make up the film's trio of caring women. All seem to gain great strength from one another.