Columbia's City Kwanzaa Celebration teaches residents about unity, family

Saturday, December 3, 2011 | 8:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Not everyone at the celebration at Douglass High School on Saturday afternoon knew what they were celebrating.

That is, they couldn't say they knew what Kwanzaa was. But they came to participate in activities, be with their kids and perform for their families.

They came to celebrate exactly what Kwanzaa is all about: unity and family.

Kwanzaa, meaning "first fruits" in Swahili, is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year. The holiday in America was inspired by ancient African first fruits celebrations. It is a time that brings people together.

Nia Imani, who named herself for the Kwanzaa principles of purpose and faith, led a candle-lighting ceremony to honor the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Imani is president of Fun City Youth Academy, and she has been leading the City Kwanzaa Celebration for 12 years. Columbia has observed the festival for 18 years, said Bill Thompson, recreation specialist for the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. The Kwanzaa celebration was sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department, and the funding comes from the city budget and donations.

A couple hundred people attended Saturday’s celebration, Thompson said.

Isaiah Wilder,17, played drums in the performance. He said he has been performing and rehearsing for Kwanzaa for two years.

“The festival offers an opportunity to be closer to my family, as I often performed in front of them,” Wilder said.

Janie Brooks, instructor at the Fun City Summer Academy, taught about a dozen girls to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for the celebration.

“I think the festival is great," she said. "It bonds the family together."

As she talked, the girls sang on the stage while parents knelt in the front row to take pictures. After they finished the song, parents stood and applauded. A little girl dashed from the stage toward a woman with a big laugh.

At a drawing booth, Tateanna Thompson, 15, was taking time off from work to draw pictures. She has been volunteering for the festival with her father, Bill Thompson, for three years. She said the festival draws her in because "Kwanzaa is different from any other festival we've heard of." She said it's special because it helps people appreciate and learn about the African-American culture.

The whole ceremony was meant for education as well as celebration.

“The celebration today is more like a pre-Kwanzaa," Imani said. "I teach people how to celebrate and give them a flavor of what the festival is like."

Leaders of the celebration hope participants will light candles and discuss the ethics and values of Kwanzaa at home.

"What's lost in society is the close family ties," Bill Thompson said. "The elders made the world, and it's important to let young people realize this and respect the old."

The event also recognized outstanding community members who were nominated by the public: Lloyd Simons, Johnny Washington, Martha Williams, Judy Enyart, Jackie Turner, Charlene Thompson, Carlos Taylor and Randy Nicols. Each represented a principle of Kwanzaa.

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