Kwanzaa celebration held to embrace African culture

Josh Whetherholt and Josh Whetherholt

The 13th annual Kwanzaa Celebration took place in Olscamp Friday evening for students, faculty and community members to come together for a cultural karamu (festival) immersed in African heritage.

Kwanzaa, celebrated not as a religious holiday, but a community holiday, was created in 1966 by Ron Karenga as a way to learn about and celebrate African culture. The holiday traditionally is a week-long celebration starting the day after Christmas and ending on Jan. 1.

‘It’s kind of a ‘holiweek’ for black people to think differently about themselves and to uplift themselves and each other,’ said Black Student Union president and Kwanzaa co-emcee Dean Bryson.

For co-emcee Sierra Turner, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to learn about her African roots.

‘It’s about African and African-American culture and it gives an understanding of where we came from and the culture we would have experienced back home.’

The annual celebration has become a central cause for educating students for Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs Sheila Brown, who has organized the Kwanzaa Celebration for the last 10 years.

‘As far as the campus community goes, it’s really important for students to get an understanding and appreciation of different culture and it’s become something that is really important to me,’ Brown said.

One of the key participants in this year’s celebration was guest speaker Pamela Hill who led the gathering in the ‘welcoming song’, funga alafia, and talked about the seven tenets of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Hill stressed not just living by the tenets during Kwanzaa, but all year long.

‘I try my best to live the principles because it is a road map for success,’ Hill said. ‘If we practice the principles in our daily lives, it makes us better people in our communities, and if we learn our history, it gives us confidence to do better.’

Hill said one of the most important parts of Kwanzaa is to encourage students to be proactive in learning their history and the history of others. During her presentation she encouraged everyone to ‘read, read, read, because history is hidden in the pages of the book.’

‘We have to educate all the time,’ Hill said. ‘If you don’t know anything about your history, anybody could tell you anything. If you know it, you can correct them.’

Even though Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday like Christmas or Hanukkah there is still gift-giving, but people are encouraged to stray away from the celebration of material goods, so, instead, people make gifts and give books to others, something Hill said brings the family members together, especially when children typically help in planning the celebration.

While Kwanzaa is a celebration to learn about and appreciate African culture, the crowd was more diverse than some may expect.

‘There are people interested in [Kwanzaa] and curious about it,’ Brown said. ‘It’s really good to see so many non-black people want to come and learn.’

In the spirit of funga alafia, Bryson thought it was great for people to be interested in other cultures.

‘There are a lot of things that we do that anybody can learn about with the holiday and come in with their own roots,’ Bryson said. ‘It’s an identity holiday and it has a feel of family. The different parts of family come together to have a karamu (festival).”