Columbia enjoys an early taste of Kwanzaa

Saturday, December 4, 2010 | 10:07 p.m. CST; updated 6:37 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 5, 2010
People gathered at Douglass High School on Saturday to celebrate Kwanzaa, a celebration of African heritage. Community awards were given, and people enjoyed entertainment and a festive feast.

COLUMBIA — Clapping and singing echoed in the gymnasium of Douglass High School on Saturday as Nia Imani, president of Fun City Youth Academy, led the audience in a call and response to remember the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Two free styling drummers from City-Wide Drumline and Rhythm Band filled the room with pulsating rhythm, followed by elementary-school-age members of Fun City Youth Academy signing and dancing to “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson. Two performers from Poetry in Motion transitioned from dancing to rapping to beatboxing.


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Amidst this, community members from diverse cultures came together to learn about Kwanzaa, a family commemoration of African-American and pan-African culture held every year from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa highlight what the creator of the holiday, Maulana Karenga, thought embodied the shared values of African-American and pan-African culture. The values are listed first in Swahili and then English:

  • Umoja — Unity.
  • Kujichagulia — Self-Determination.
  • Ujima — Collective Work and Responsibility.
  • Ujamaa — Cooperative Economics.
  • Nia — Purpose.
  • Kuumba — Creativity.
  • Imani — Faith.

Nia Imani has been educating communities about Kwanzaa ever since she first celebrated the holiday 30 years ago. She even changed her name to two of the seven principles to reflect the purpose and faith in her life.

Kwanzaa is not a religious or commercial holiday. Instead, families make homemade gifts for each other and discuss the meaning of community, culture and unity, said Sherry McBride-Brown, regional youth outreach coordinator for Daniel Boone Regional Library.

“I’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa since before I knew what it was about,” McBride-Brown said. “It’s a natural progression from principles I already have.”

Jodi Taylor, a volunteer for the event, said she went in knowing nothing about Kwanzaa. She said her husband and two children came along to see what they could learn.

“They’re definitely going to have a cultural experience today,” Taylor said.

For Taylor's 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, Kwanzaa reinforced what she had been learning in her third-grade class about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement.

“She still wouldn’t move when the police came,” Olivia said.

“Yeah, she stood up for herself, didn’t she?" Taylor chimed in.

Baomin Li, who came as visiting scholar from China three months ago, found out about the Kwanzaa celebration in City Source, a newsletter sent out with the city’s utility bills. She brought her daughter and neighbors along.

“We want to learn about other foreign cultures," said Li’s neighbor Feng Li, a Chinese post-doctorate medical student at MU.

Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanzaa, meaning "first fruits." This is connected to why Kwanzaa is celebrated at the end of the year, Imani said.

“It’s a time to reflect on your year, to clear out the past and reflect on what to do to make next year better,” Imani said.

Kwanzaa was created after the L.A. Watts riots in 1965 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American struggle for racial equality. The holiday is meant to preserve history and culture for future generations, said coordinator Bill Thompson.

“We try to have something for everybody,” Thompson said after the performances on Saturday. “If we separate the young and the old, how can the young learn from the old?”

“[Kwanzaa] is more than seven days of celebration,” Imani said. “It’s a way of life. It’s a way to move through your life. A people without a culture are lost.”

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Laura Kebede December 13, 2010 | 12:53 a.m.

How does your family celebrate Kwanzaa?

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