Loosely translated, the word "harambe" is Swahili for "pulling together in unity" or "all for one."

And when it comes to the subject of domestic violence and sexual assault, black victims should know that help is available and they are not alone.

Harambe Social Services, Inc., is a statewide agency created 12 years ago to promote the well-being of people of the African Diaspora and to provide culturally specific services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and the prevention of both in the black community.

"All of Harambe's services are developed and adapted from African principles and teachings," said Executive Director Rose Williams, of Sicklerville.

The organization held a kickoff program Feb. 8 at the Janie Jones Community Center on Mediterranean Avenue to introduce its presence in the Atlantic City and Pleasantville communities.

To mark Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the message of the inaugural event was "Love Me, Respect Me."

Williams and her staff welcomed visitors, gave out informational brochures and spoke about their programs. Light refreshments were served, and visitors were treated to an African drumming performance that made the event festive and lively.

The agency's main focus is to provide relationship workshops and offer supportive education and resources for teens and adults who find themselves in unhealthy situations.

Overall, the general community does not have enough information about domestic violence and assault issues, and when it comes to specific cultural groups, the information gap is widened, Williams said.

Harambe Services wants to fill that gap.

"Let's face it, folks feel more comfortable talking with people who look like them," Williams said. "We want to be that face for girls to open up and talk and get information."

Harambe's mission is guided by the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba.

The need for a culturally specific program was first cited by the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community in 1993. According to its website, the "one-size-fits-all" approach to domestic violence services provided in mainstream communities did not suffice for black residents, who disproportionately experience stressors that can create conditions that lead to violence in the home.

Williams said in order to reach people, it is vital to understand their culture.

According to statistics, one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner; black women experience intimate partner violence from their partners at a rate 35 percent higher than that of women of other races; and, black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 3.5 times more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner than women of other races and of the same age.

But while Harambe is devoted to working primarily in the black community, Williams said there is no "color line" when it comes to domestic abuse and that they are available for help for all cultures.

The agency has no home base as of yet, but Williams said she hopes to have a permanent space sometime in the fall at a location either in Atlantic City or Pleasantville.

Until then, staff members will travel to schools, civic organizations, faith-based organizations and businesses to offer workshops that can be tailored to meet the needs of specific groups, she said.

Domestic violence is something that is still not talked about openly, she said.

"People still look at it as a private situation, something that must be kept quiet," Williams said. "Our young people need be made aware and be willing to speak up."

"Sometimes people get in unhappy situations," Williams said. "We can help them see what the alternatives are and provide them with resources to help them get out of situations."

Young people especially, even as young as 14, 15 or 16 years old, can find themselves in abusive relationships. Staffers do a lot of work with teens that focus on prevention and understanding the dynamics of a healthy relationship, she said.

As far as spreading the message, there is no competition among groups, organizations and social agencies, as they all strive to bring information to all segments of the population, she said. Forming partnerships with other social agencies better serves the community, she said.

Helping Harambe Social Services with its Feb. 8 program were Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Theta Kappa Omega Chapter, SHE-Inspire, the Women's Center, and Moms in Charge, Atlantic City Chapter, which all served as co-sponsors for the event.

The next healthy relationship workshop in Atlantic City is scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 24, again at the Janie Jones Community Center, 912 Mediterranean Ave., with a focus on adult attendance.

Also, a workshop for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. March 8, at Our Lady of the Sea School, corner of California and Atlantic avenues.

For information about these programs call 609-225-6936 or

Contact Lucia C. Drake:

609-272-7295