Holiday celebrates family, community, culture
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007
“Habari gani?” was the cry heard Dec. 26 at the Dunbar Center in Greenville as African-Americans from across the community gathered to celebrate Kwanzaa.
Attendees learned this warm greeting, along with other Swahili words and phrases that night. Speakers from community organizations and young musicians joined in the program, sharing in the rituals that are part of the cultural celebration.
The event was jointly sponsored by Willie Mae Robinson and the Lambda Delta Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
A holiday for all faiths
Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African holiday celebrated for seven days from December 26 through January 1, is only 40 years old.
“Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studied at Cal State, Long Beach, founded a cultural organization in the wake of the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965,” Mistress of Order, JoAnn Tillman, explained to the audience.
Karenga did extensive research into African customs and learned of the celebration of “first fruit harvests” on the continent. He combined those ancient celebrations with other aspects of African culture to create in 1966 a new holiday, Kwanzaa.
The name is derived from Swahili, the most commonly spoken language in Africa. According to the official Kwanzaa Website, Kwanzaa is meant to be “a cultural, non-religious holiday available to and practiced by Africans of all faiths who come together on their rich, ancient and varied common ground.”
Celebrating treasured values
While it is a relatively new holiday, Kwanzaa represents long-established values such as family, community and culture.
“The seven days represent Kwanzaa's seven principles, the Nguzo Saba. We light a candle each day to represent a different principle during Kwanzaa,” Tillman said.
“The process of lighting the candle provides a time of family togetherness and meaningful discussions.”
Community leaders came forward to share details of each of the seven principles as they each lit one of the red, green and black candles in the kinara, or candle holder. (Black represents the people; red, their common struggle, and green, hope for the future.)
“The first candle represents Unity (umoja), We must have unity in our race, family, community and our nation, and work together for a common cause,” said Algia Edwards of the Professional Men's Club.
The second candle represents Kujichagulia, Self-Determination. A representative of the Butler County Civic League encouraged the audience to “step forward and set high goals,” much as the Apostle Paul did in the Bible.
The third candle, lit by a member of the Butler County Optimist Club, signifies Ujima, or Collective Work and Responsibility.
“We must teach our children to make their sisters' and brothers' problems their own problems and to work on solutions together. Let's not talk against one another but help each other,” the speaker said.
“We lose many of our children because we don't teach them principles and responsibility.”
Cooperative Economics, or Ujamaa, is represented by the fourth candle.
Barbara Richards of the Ebony Social Club said, “We haven't done a good job in some areas of our nation in using our resources wisely to assist and support the entire community. We are too dependent on others for our most basic needs.”
Finding purpose and faith
Michelle Campbell, representing the Loving, Giving, Caring Social Club, lit the fifth candle for Nia, Purpose.
“We must all ask ourselves, ‘What are we here for? What is my purpose?'” Campbell said. “Determine how you should make your mark in this world. How will you help your family and community? We have to look at where we came from and where we are headed.”
The sixth candle, representing Creativity, or Kuumba, was lit by Evangelist Carolyn Griffin for the members of the Thrifty-Teers Club.
“We were created to make his place gloriousŠto leave a great legacy for our children. If we wish for eternity, we must build for eternity,” Griffin admonished her listeners.
Linda Cook-Hamilton, representing the Oscar F. Shambray Butler County ASU Alumni Association, lit the final candle for Imani, Faith.
“We must believe with all our hearts in our people, parents, teachers, leaders and the righteousness of our struggle,” Hamilton said.
“Unity is the first candle and faith the last candle for a very good reason. Without unity, we cannot begin; without faith, we cannot sustain. Place the greatest faith in our Creator, and in all that makes us beautiful and strong.”
Betty Whittle spoke of the importance of honoring ancestors and Linda Cook-Hamilton performed the libation ceremony with the Kikomber cha Umoja (Unity Cup), one of the primary symbols of Kwanzaa.
The Southeast District Youth Mass Choir performed several selections for the program while Dottie Sellers shared her impassioned original poem, “Just Because I'm BlackŠ”
Following the program, attendees were encouraged to browse among the exhibits by local organizations, which included information on the clubs, black history literature, and displays of the “first fruits.”
Willie Mae Robinson, garbed in traditional African dress, thanked all those who participated in and attended the event.
“We hope you have learned the value of family, friends and the community working together in faith,” Robinson said.
Hattie Brown, one of the organizers for the Kwanzaa celebration, promised Robinson the Zetas along with the ASU Alumni Club, would be “picking up the baton” for next year's event.