On a recent Saturday, BloomBars was filled with energy. "Give me the peace sign," announced Baba Ras D, holding up his two forefingers in the "V" that is known in the U.S. as the peace sign.
"Pass the peace, pass the peace," he said, touching his fingers with those of some of the toddlers in his audience, before beating on his drum. "Give me the peace sign!" The toddlers beat on drums, too.
The nonprofit community arts center in Washington rocked with sound and movement, some of it rhythmical, some of it not.
"They are children who can't say peace. They can't say the word, but they know how to pass it," Baba Ras D says about his audience.
His program is called Harambee, which means "all pull together" in Swahili. Baba Ras D, who has Trinidadian and Caribbean roots, created it more than 25 years ago.
"I was not born in Africa; Africa was born in me," he said. "You can bring unity about with one word, and that word is harambee."
Baba Ras D, whose name means "Father of Kings and Queens," is a former college basketball player, who holds a degree in criminal justice and worked as a juvenile corrections officer. That experience helped make him aware of the importance of early childhood development and led him to start the Harambee program.
"That is the most important move I have ever made," he said. "Just to see where I can fit in to be able to help dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and a way where I can also be of an impact for our future to let them study war no more."
Growing up in a musical family, Baba Ras D learned to play a variety of instruments, including his signature drum. "The Djembe drum from West Africa is a percussion instrument that I find resonates with my heartbeat," he said. His drum also connects with the heartbeat of his audience. "That is the power of the drum to bring us all together as one."
Baba Ras D, whose given name is Darren Campbell, hopes the children will learn compassionate communications and become peace ambassadors, peacekeepers and peacemakers.
"After the series of time coming to the Harambee experience, they just don't practice it here," he said. "They practice at home. They practice in the community. They practice it in the neighborhood."
Matt Dull has brought his son Max to the program for three years, and he has seen changes in Max. "Max uses Baba Ras D as a reference point in many of our everyday activities. At his day care … I think he is a good sharer. I think he learned here."
Parents benefit, too.
"It makes me feel a lot better than when I showed up here," said Kaydee Dahlin, who has been bringing her 4-year-old daughter, Flora, to Harambee practically since she was born. Now, she also brings 1-year-old Gustavo.
"I love the messages," she said. "Like today when we said over and over 'Love Is on the Rise,' I got a tear in my eye because these days there's a lot of bad news, and to bring our children to a place where you can sing and play music and sing 'Love is on the Rise' — really it's healing."