A community place

Harambee’s staff wants its non-denominational Christian church to be more than a building that’s open on Sundays. The employees want the building to be a space for people, especially youth, to gather week-long, and not just for worship.

  • Friday, May 30, 2008 2:46pm
  • News

Barkari Gipson

Harambee’s staff wants its non-denominational Christian church to be more than a building that’s open on Sundays. The employees want the building to be a space for people, especially youth, to gather week-long, and not just for worship.

“Our focus is to be here for the community, not to trick the community into becoming Christians,” says John Prince, Harambee program coordinator. “We really just want to be part of the community.”

While the building is a church on Sundays, the rest of the week it’s simply a gathering spot. Bibles aren’t handed out at events, and most events aren’t religious.

Harambee has been in Renton for about three years, in the former Renton Eagles building on South Third Street in downtown Renton. But Mike Gunn says this year is the first Harambee has “been most consistently stable.” Gunn is pastor of Harambee Church and acting director of the now-on-hold nonprofit Harambee Community Development Association. He is Harambee’s “driving force.” Before coming to Renton, Harambee was a church in Tukwila.

“It’s a place for community — it’s lots of things,” Gunn says of the eye-catching bright yellow building with red posts that is Harambee. “It’s obviously an after-school program. We want to develop that more.”

Gunn wants to develop more programs at Harambee, focused on three As: academics arts and athletics.

Harambee’s goal is apparent in its Swahili name, which Prince translates to “Together pushing forward.”

“That reflects our goal in the community,” he says.

The spacious building is now primarily an after-school gathering spot.

Several teens were hanging in the HALL on a recent afternoon. HALL stands for the Harambee After-school Learning Lounge.

A couple guys play ping pong, and a couple other groups of teens sit around two Xbox consoles, while two young women who work at Harambee browse the Web on nearby computers.

“I come here a lot, like everyday,” says Moi, a junior at Renton High.

His first visit was for a post-football game party. Prince calls the event a fifth-quarter party, “a safe hangout after the game,” complete with pizza, pop, a DJ and dancing.

Moi usually spends his afternoons at Harambee playing video games with friends.

“This is what we all do,” he says.

A Pacific Islander, Moi was also recently practicing dance moves with a group at Harambee for an upcoming cultural concert.

Before Harambee, Moi went straight home after school. Now he has more time with friends, at a building just a short walk from the Renton Transit Center and a Metro bus to his Skyway home.

Moi is usually joined at a Harambee Xbox console by his cousin, Tony Feo, also a Renton High junior.

“I run this,” Feo boasts. “He own it, I run it,” he says, pointing to Gunn. “This place right here keeps you out of a lot of trouble.”

Feo may run the place, but Prince supervises the teens from 2-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Basically it’s like a drop-in center,” Prince says. “The doors are open for people to come hang out.”

Aside from the Xbox consoles, ping pong table and computers, Harambee’s HALL has comfy couches and chairs and a foosball table. Through a door is a rarely used industrial kitchen, a spacious auditorium with seating for nearly 200, a stage and a collection of musical instruments. The makings of a recording booth are in a closet in the auditorium.

A couple teens have laid down hip-hop tracks in the makeshift recording studio. A full-scale recording studio is in the works, for use by teens who keep their grades up.

Also in the works is a hip-hop dance class. The class will be taught by 6th Day Dance, of Bothell. Gunn is also developing a tutoring program. And he’s already begun to tackle the athletics component. The former assistant football coach at Renton High and father of the Renton High quarterback, Justin Gunn, has operated a running school out of Harambee for the past few years. The aim is to help athletes improve their speed and quickness.

Gunn previously ran Christian sports clinics with help from college and professional athletes in inner-city Chicago and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles program, which began in 1999, is still running. The student participants in these clinics also received academic help. Gunn would like to replicate those programs at Harambee.

On the arts end, Harambee hosts an open mic every few months. The last open mic had 18 acts.

“It went really well,” Prince says. There were like 10 acts we weren’t expecting.”

Harambee has also held emcee battles, in which high schoolers duel using hip hop and rap rhymes, and a slew of concerts, plays and school events. Harambee can be rented out for virtually any event, Gunn says.

“We have a facility, but we don’t have a lot of staff,” he says. “But we’re like, ‘Hey, if you guys got a program, we got the facility to run it.”

Harambee has only six staffers, four part-time. Almost all came from Harambee in Tukwila. The lack of employees limits the programs Harambee can put on. Funding is also an issue. Harambee Church funds most everything.

“Everything’s been pretty piecemeal here,” Gunn says. “The church takes a loss. But that’s OK to do that for the community.”

Gunn hopes to partner with the City of Renton and Renton Community Center to help boost Harambee’s programs.

With its prime spot near Renton High School and the Renton Transit Center, Harambee offers a prime location for after-school programs.

“A lot of people around here seem to be working in the same direction, without a facility,” Prince says.

Once Harambee gets some community partners and funding, the center should really get bustling.

“Our future is definitely looking brighter,” Prince says. “We have the potential for a great building … We really need something downtown, and here we are.”

Emily Garland can be reached at emily.garland@reporternewspapers.com or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.


Harambee is at 316 South Third St. Worship is Sunday at 10 a.m., after-school activities are Monday – Friday, 2-5 p.m.

For more information, or to donate, call 425-271-6700, or visit vivaharambee.com or harambeechurch.com

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