Charlene Balewa is a marketing specialist.
Responsible for managing all the chaos behind the scenes at Saturday’s annual Harambee Festival, she is a former marketing manager at FAMU. You could say it’s in her blood.
Balewa was born in New York, where she lived for only a few short years. Her parents, natives of Jamaica, then moved to San Diego where she was raised.
She vividly recalls the times her parents would say, “You likkle but you tallawah,” meaning even though you’re one person, when you’re strong, mindful and determined there’s no obstacle that can hinder your success.
The meaning of "tallawah" has helped Balewa to continue to grow over the years. After school, she took her first job in broadcast journalism in San Francisco.
She later relocated to Tallahassee where she started her own company, Tallawah Marketing Group.
She coordinated her first festival in 2002 for the Neo Soul Expo at the Civic Center. Gaining experience, she went on years later to partner with a natural hair studio to help develop the Capital City Expo in 2012.
With her background in sales, marketing and broadcast journalism, she began working with the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. She then worked for a local TV station, where she realized that Florida State University was constantly broadcasting its events while FAMU was under-represented on the air.
Through networking she was able to make great relationships in the city, which was how she became the marketing manager at FAMU.
Kathy Times, FAMU’s chief communications officer, had nothing but positive things to say about Balewa.
“It’s been a huge success. We watched the festival grow year after year. Charlene worked in our office as our marketing Coordinator, despite leaving for Orlando. She’s been so dedicated to the event that we hired her to come back to make sure we are able to have another successful event because she brings so much energy and passion to it,” Times said.
During her role at FAMU she was able to use her creativity for community outreach. She made it her mission to represent the university and bring more awareness of FAMU on the local level in regard to doing events, commercializing events on campus and, of course, developing the Harambee Festival.
Balewa believes the festival, which focuses on everything from culture to fashion, is part of who she is.
”The Harambee Festival actually has a really deep history, it actually started back in the late ’80s with some FAMU professors that wanted to host it here in Tallahassee. It was something that everybody looked forward to going to, an opportunity for everyone to enjoy one another, learn and buy beautifully written books, be inspired by all the rich culture of our history,” she said.
Before doing her first Harambee Festival in 2016 she reached out to some of the original founders like Beverly Barber to get their blessings.
They were able to help her “rebirth” the Harambee Festival.
“Working in the office of communications we’re always thinking of really innovative and creative things to excite our constituents, faculty, staff and students,” Balewa said.
So in honor of Black History Month, Balewa and her team initiated the Harambee Festival.
“We have vendors that come from all across the region, bringing all kinds of eccentric art, jewelry, African attire, beautiful paintings and books, it’s like a big family reunion. It’s an opportunity to really educate the public about their history. We were kings and queens, not just slaves and we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors,” she said. “With us being the best HBCU we have to host the best festival for Black History Month Hence, the Harambee Festival.”