Columbia’s Kwanzaa celebration calls for cultural, family unity

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1967.
Fun City Youth Group President Nia Imani goes over the seven principles of Kwanzaa on Saturday afternoon at Frederick Douglass High School. The event featured Kwanzaa traditions and history.

Saturday was Columbia’s citywide celebration of Kwanzaa, an event which promoted family and community unity. Founded in 1966, by Professor Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa was an opportunity for African-Americans to celebrate their own culture during one of America’s most racially tense periods.

“Although it’s considered to be an African-American holiday, the principles of Kwanzaa apply to any family,” Event Coordinator Bill Thompson said.

Thompson’s words rang true as he looked on a crowd of all races—black, white, Asian and Hispanic—all there to celebrate Kwanzaa. Held in Douglas High School’s gymnasium, the celebration included dancing, singing, ceremonial traditions and a feast.

Kwanzaa means “first fruits” and celebrates the harvest. Traditionally, produce would be set on display at a table alongside seven candlesticks, representing each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

“It’s not really a holiday," Sherry McBride-Brown of the Daniel Boone Regional Library said. "It’s a celebration bringing people together from cultures, and for understanding and to make a better community,”

Vendors from across Columbia set up booths around the gymnasium, varying from the Daniel Boone Regional Library to families selling lollipops. According to Thompson, the crowd’s support of each vendor was an example of collective economics, or Ujamaa, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The event’s goal was not only to celebrate the holiday, but also to raise awareness and interest in Kwanzaa. Brochures about the history and tradition of Kwanzaa, as well as ways to involve family members, were given out at several booths.

“Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community, culture and the harvest. It’s a time to reflect, and a time to come together and share,” Mary Rodriguez, Program Manager for Fun City Youth Academy, said. “It should be time spent really living, experiencing each moment.”

Keynote speaker and President of Fun City Youth Academy, Nia Imani spoke about the seven principles of Kwanzaa and the meaning behind its tradition. The principles are Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani which mean unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith, respectively.

Imani’s name actually means faith and purpose, two of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Her message was one of communal support for the family and the community. Although her message touched on deep philosophical messages such as finding and exhibiting one’s self, it also brought practicality to audience members.

“Ujamaa, cooperative economics, means supporting each other,” Imani said. “In your home, be responsible. If you know your mama can’t afford those two hundred dollar tennis shoes—get over yourself.”

Imani told the audience although many of them would not be able to remember the type of racism experienced at the time of Kwanzaa’s creation, each person in the audience should remember their culture and where they came from.

“Kwanzaa is a way of life," Imani said. "It is a way to help you move through your life.”

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