A Kwanzaa celebration


Ayoka Sowa-La sings "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during a celebration of the last day of Kwanzaa Tuesday night at the Wilhelmina Johnson Center, 321 NW 10th St. Kwanzaa was created 30 years ago to celebrate the African principles of unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

CYNTHIA WALLACE/ Special to the Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 1:18 a.m.

Facts

At a glance

Kwanzaa principles (Also the items on Kwanzaa table.)

  • MAZAO - Fruits and vegetables, which represent the fruits of labor.
  • MKEKA - A straw mat, which is the symbol of African tradition and history.
  • KINARA - A candleholder, which represents the continental African ancestors.
  • MUHINDI - Ears of corn, which represent children.
  • ZAWADI - Gifts given to support personal growth.
  • KIKOMBE CHA UMOJA - A cup symbolizing unity.
  • MISHUMAA SABA - Seven candles. One black, which represents the people, three red, which represent the struggle, and three green, which represent hope for the future.

  • Though the chilling rain outside was beating hard against the roof of the Wilhelmina Johnson Center on Tuesday evening, it could not quell the warmth of spirit inside.
    As Atiba Gedinimbo, Paul Yon and Nii Sowa-La pounded out African rhythms on the congas, people filed into the center, located on NW 10th Street, many clothed in traditional African garb, for the celebration of the sixth day of Kwanzaa.
    Kwanzaa, the African-American cultural holiday conceived and developed by California State University at Long Beach professor Maulana Ron Karenga, was first celebrated on Dec. 26, 1966. Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Known as "Kuumba," the sixth day specifically commemorates the creativity of African culture.
    The event was produced by the Cultural Arts Coalition, an organization that has been promoting educational and cultural activities in Gainesville's black community for more than 15 years. It featured music, dancing, poetry and a traditional African ceremony, culminating in a "Karamu," or feast.
    "This is the appropriate day for the coalition to have a celebration," said Anthony Greene, a University of Florida psychologist and artist who is on the board of directors for the organization. "The coalition's mission involves using the arts to promote cultural understanding and learning."
    After seeking permission of the elders in the room - an African tradition - Sowa-La began the libation, which is a sort of blessing and tribute that begins the official ceremony.
    Kali Blount delivered a brief explanation of the Kwanzaa celebration.
    The focus of Kwanzaa is centered around the seven principles - Nguzo Saba - with particular emphasis on unity, Blount said.
    Kwanzaa has definite principles, practices and symbols that are geared to the social and spiritual needs of blacks, he said.
    "Kwanzaa is one week of the year," Blount said. "But there are 51 more weeks. Let's observe these principles every week and remember them day to day in our communities."
    He said Kwanzaa is a way of life, not just a celebration. He also explained the various items to be found on the Kwanzaa table, which is placed in the home, and the tradition of gift giving associated with the celebration.
    "Books about black history are an important gift for the children," Blount said. "This is because such books are lacking in the schools."
    Then it was time for music, dancing and poetry.
    Greene read a poem, "America," sent to him by a friend. And his daughter Kellerie, 19, sang the gospel classic "Still I Rise" by Yolanda Adams, which brought the audience to its feet.
    After some traditional African dance, NKwanda Jah, the Cultural Arts Coalition executive director, gave a stirring rendition of "The Negro Mother," a poem by Langston Hughes.
    "All you dark children in the world out there," she said, reading the poem. "Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair. Remember my years, heavy with sorrow. And make of those years a torch for tomorrow."
    Douglas Jordan can be reached at 374-5036 or jordand@ gvillesun.com.

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