Kwanzaa “reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people’s culture,” as stated by the founder Dr. Maulana Karenga. Arizona Informant Foundation and Arizona Informant Newspaper kicked off the celebration Dec. 26.
This first day of Kwanzaa, people were welcomed to tour the office’s 50 years worth of pictorial and editorial history chronicling Arizona’s Black community.
“I wanted to learn more about Kwanzaa,” said Sheilah McCalpine, who joined people of all ages for an open house at the paper located 1301 E. Washington St., in Phoenix.
After socializing and enjoying refreshments, attendees participated in the annual Kwanzaa festivities led by Dr. Gershom Williams, a noted cultural historian and community activist whose birthday was on the same day.
“I am proud to be a Kwanzaa baby,” said Williams as he explained the significance of lighting black, red and green candles symbolizing the seven principals of Kwanzaa, which is observed from Dec. 26- Jan. 1.
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a former Black activist and university professor of Black studies in California. The non religious holiday celebrates a combination of African and African-American culture and history with seven candles representing seven Kwanzaa principles unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Ujima), cooperative economics (Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba); and faith (Imani) on a seven pronged candle holder called a Kinara, much resembling a Jewish Minorah.
For the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit with each signifying one of the seven principles valued within the African-American culture.
“It’s not a Black Christmas,” Williams said. Noting the importance of recognizing ancestors and elders, while paying “homage to those who were subjected to brutal oppression,” Williams stressed learning the history of Black people’s oppression and to “never forget.”
“Those who forget, it will happen to again,” he said, adding it is unfathomable to imagine what happened on the Middle Passage and on plantations that Black ancestors endured.
The red, black and green colors displayed for the Kwanzaa candles represent the Pan African flag, which was adopted on Aug. 13, 1920, during a convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Detailing how the flag was developed to represent Black people’s culture and sense of identity, Williams noted the meanings behind the colors of the flag and candles.
Red not only symbolized struggle but the blood shed that unites all Black descendants; the green represents the future and hope tied to the struggle with the single, centered black candle serving as a unifying bond.
Meanwhile, the name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” first fruits, or harvest, in Swahili. The celebration’s festivities nationwide can include singing, dancing, storytelling, African drumming, exchanging gifts and more.
Sharing details about the rituals that included displays of fruits and vegetables, straw mats, Afro-centric crafts, etc., Williams also led the audience in a song.
He recognized those 60 and older at the local, quaint gathering, in addition to the children, who he said were symbolized with each ear of corn often shown during celebrations. Among the oldest elders at the newspaper’s celebration was Annie Hargrove who had the honor of lighting the first candle.
She and her husband, Bennie, have attended Kwanzaa ceremonies in Arizona since they first heard Williams’ presentation during a celebration at Mesa Community College years ago, she said.