For some time now, Fellowship Monrovia’s Rev. Albert Tate and Harambee Ministries and Preparatory School Executive Director Harlan Redmond have been travelling a trajectory of intertwined fate.
The two long-time friends both hail from the South, relocating to Southern California around the same time (“We could have been on the same plane,” noted Tate). Both men are fathers with new babies on the way, and both have been greatly influenced by the life’s work and ministry of John M. Perkins, a Christian civil rights activist and community developer who founded Harambee in 1982.
And now, the two will have shared a life’s purpose — the job leading Harambee. Tate will take over this year as Harambee’s executive director, in part so that Redmond can seize an opportunity to study at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Both have been dreaming of the change.
Tate founded Fellowship Monrovia, which has grown at a dizzying pace to include a congregation of some 4,000. He has been seeking to expand to a campus-model church, especially to serve the 1,700 members who live in Pasadena and travel to Monrovia every Sunday. But he wanted the expansion to be mission driven, not just logistical.
“We’ve been very prayerful with that process … we wanted the expansion to be based off a ‘deeper why,’ finding a place and purpose where we can provide services, not just have services,” Tate said.
That got him thinking a lot about the children and purpose of Harambee, the blue hacienda-style school and ministry at the corner of Howard Avenue and Navarro Street. Located in what was once the crime-ridden heart of Northwest Pasadena, even known as “blood corner” due to the gang violence and shootings there, Harambee Ministries and Preparatory School has become the neighborhood jewel. It offers an academically challenging Christian education for pre-K to 6th grade, mostly for free, to a diverse demographic of children living nearby, many of whom come from single-parent families or live with extended relatives.
“When you think about things you can do to make a difference, working here at Harambee is an opportunity to make significant impact, to literally change a generation,” said Tate, who will begin transitioning in the spring and take over as executive director in August. “It’s exciting and for a worthy cause. If you’re going to work hard and make sacrifices, this is the kind of thing you do it for — eternal kingdom impact, that’s what this is.”
Tate had a vision, he said, a dream of taking over the helm at Harambee. While he and Redmond are friends, he laughed, he wasn’t going to just ask his friend for the job. So he waited, and prayed.
Meanwhile, Redmond was shouldering doubts about his own future. He had taken over Harambee in 2012, after seeing the nonprofit struggle in the wake of an economic recession and some misguided leadership. He began at the campus as a janitor and worked his way up, finishing school with a degree from Azusa Pacific University and then completing a master’s in teaching and urban education from USC. When Redmond took over as executive director, he threw his heart and soul into saving the school. He slashed the annual operating budget and assumed several positions, including that of principal, administrator, fundraiser, (sometimes) teacher, (always) father figure, and groundskeeper and janitor.
“Harambee was always created to be an extension of the home; every person who comes through that door is part of the family,” said Redmond, who knows every child and parent and their telephone numbers.
“Nobody is a stranger here — there’s an advantage to this small environment, we know where you live,” Redmond said. “We want to make sure the most vulnerable have the tools around them to succeed. We have to be intentional about knowing our community, intentional in knowing our neighbors.”
Redmond got creative in that process — boosting enrollment and improving academic curriculum while increasing community outreach. He was determined to preserve John Perkins’ mission, on which Harambee was founded, from the Swahili word (meaning “everyone coming together to push”), and take it to the next level. He even helped create a successful catering business, called “The Push,” which offers a source of employment in the neighborhood, valuable work experience and job training to the older students, many of whom graduated from Harambee with scholarships to Pasadena Christian School and MaranathaHigh School.
Harambee also has provided temporary housing to those who need it, with Redmond and his wife often taking families under their own roof at the ministry’s on-campus home.
“We are filling in those gaps that exist in the home, those are the things that strengthen and empower kids and help them to become model citizens in society,” he said. “We’re really proud of being able to provide family where there is none. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
But after seven years of hard work and little pause, Redmond began to feel a longing for the study of theology. One of his many side jobs at Harambee included perpetuating the legacy work of Perkins, speaking at local churches and communities on racial reconciliation — a task he enjoyed, albeit with a bit of trepidation. After one of those speeches following the white supremacist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville this past year, Redmond drew the admiration of a local pastor who asked if he’d consider seminary school. He told Redmond about a three-year master’s program at Princeton that could lead to a doctorate.
“I was intrigued, for sure, but I didn’t see how it would ever be possible. I just didn’t see how I could ever leave Harambee,” Redmond recalled. “This is kind of a lifelong commitment here.”
During one of the two friends’ coffee get-togethers, Redmond broached the Princeton opportunity with Tate, who suddenly saw the chance to put his vision of expanding to Pasadena into motion. The “bigger purpose” he had been praying for suddenly came into focus. He offered to take over as Harambee’s executive director.
Tate recalled Redmond’s reaction, laughing: “I believe Harlan practically levitated off the couch.”
Redmond agreed, smiling, shaking his head at the memory. “Albert provides the biggest consistency we could ever have. We’re both followers of John Perkins, we have similar hearts, so when he said he would do it I was overjoyed. To me, it truly was a miracle.”
The details are still being hammered out, but the boards at both Fellowship Monrovia and Harambee are throwing their full support behind the change. Tate will bring a team with him to replace Redmond at Harambee and all the positions he embodied, including a principal, administrator and local pastor. Tate, meanwhile, will focus on galvanizing the community and leveraging partnerships, taking advantage of the wealthy base of knowledge and experience within his congregation.
“Part of my role will be casting a vision that inspires adults to care for children,” Tate said. “With our fellowship coming here to Northwest Pasadena, it will be beneficial to the entire neighborhood. We’ll bring mentors, teacher assistants, math tutors … we’ll be bringing that family support to the community. It’s a great opportunity to serve. This is legacy work.”
The Harambee board of directors already is planning a more aggressive financial plan to ensure a smooth transition, and will bring on new board members, “including hopefully Harlan,” said Board Chairman James Filippatos. They might also consider creating two boards at Harambee, one for the ministry and another for the school.
“Fellowship Monrovia and Harambee have closely aligned visions, so when Albert is speaking at a congregation elsewhere, he is perpetuating Harambee’s mission too,” said Filppatos, noting that Harambee is on solid financial ground now, in great part due to Redmond’s hard work. It’s the right time to bring change and give a fresh launch to the organization, he said.
“We are bringing a group to replace Harlan, an executive-level team structure, with a strategic visionary at the helm. Harlan has transitioned families through some really hard times … we are going to put a team in place prepared to meet all those needs in the community.”
For Redmond, the coming months will be bittersweet as he prepares to leave his neighbors and community.
“One of my moms called me and said, ‘I heard you’re leaving, what am I going to do? You’re the only father my children have ever known,’” he said. “I told her not to worry. I’m going to get everyone in the same room, and say, ‘OK, here’s the new guy, get his number!’”
As for Tate, he can hardly wait to get started. He plans to work together with many of the other local community churches, bringing many hands together “for the push that is Harambee.”
“I come joining an army that’s already active on the front lines — I get to come and stand at my post alongside all those who have been serving this community for decades. We get to join a league of legends here.”