Special to the Journal by Michael Daniels
After the traditional Christmas holiday ends, many African Americans observe another celebration known as Kwanzaa. A Swahili phrase which means ‘first’ and signifies the first fruit of the harvest. Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and last for seven days ending on January 1, and is based on seven core principals.
These principals are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulla (Self Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) Ujmaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). These ideals are observed one at a time on each day of the Kwanzaa season in the order listed by the lighting of a candle each day in the Kinara, a stand which holds the seven candles. This is followed by other Kwanzaa related traditions.
Here in Toledo on the first day of the celebration, December 26, 2018. The Fredrick Douglass Center hosted this yearly activity with a community Kwanzaa event. Organized by the Toledo Kwanzaa House Committee, the event lasted for four day instead of seven do to the venue’s availability. Despite its condensed form the program still offered Toledo’s African American community as well as others the opportunity to celebrate Kwanzaa in grand style.
Squeezed into a shorter time period than normal, the four programs covered two core principals with the lighting of two Kwanzaa candles each day. Ending with the last principal and last candle on the final day.
Day one’s opening ceremony was hosted by Master of Ceremony Rodney Gordon Jr. of the Toledo Kwanzaa House Committee, and featured inspirational speakers, traditional African dance performances, audience participation events, community vendors, and food samples.
One of the highlights of the was guest speaker Mrs. Joyce Stubblefield, who educated and amused everyone as she explained the history of collard greens, an African American food staple. ‘Slaves were not given meats very often so they ate vegetables instead’, she said, ‘and they invented different and creative ways to prepare these items’. She introduced the audience to such ideas as the collard greens sandwich, Egg rolls and even brownies, along with many other ways to prepare this favorite vegetable. She also brought along samples of her collard greens specialties for everyone to taste.
Another outstanding speaker was from The Toledo Kwanzaa House Committee and went by the self-proclaimed name of ‘Kewate’, he spoke on the second principal of Kwanzaa urging the audience to, ‘figure out who you are and be able to discern what is true and what is not true. You are not who society says you are and everything you see, hear or read is not true. If you want to know the truth read the Bible’, he said ‘there you will find the real truth and discover who you are’.
The program also included the singing of the Black National Anthem, a Recognition of the Elders, an Ancestral Roll Call, as well as several other traditional Kwanzaa customs.
Today’s local Kwanzaa celebration evolved from a small and humble beginning back in 1967 in the house of Diane Gordon: Coordinator of the Kwanzaa House Committee. ‘I started celebrating Kwanzaa with my family first,’ she said, ‘and then others soon joined in with us and it has grown from there to what it is today. Eventually the celebration got too big for my house so we moved it to the Grace Community Center’.
This move however would not be the last. Over and over again as the crowds continued to swell the committee was forces to find larger and larger spaces for the growing audience. Finally, the group ended up at The Douglass Center in the heart of the African American community. A place that has enough room to accommodate the ever-growing audience and all the other activities associated with a true Kwanzaa celebration.
When asked, why is Kwanzaa important and what is the attraction, Diane Gordon said, ‘ Kwanzaa teaches us about our true culture and the importance of our culture. We are a family orientated people of faith and we need to learn our true history. If you know your history you won’t make the same mistake in life. It also instills in us the importance of self-respect and respect for our others. If you understand the principals of Kwanzaa you can utilize them every day and throughout the rest of our life. Kwanzaa inspires us to unite and come together as a people and build a better community. If we adhere to the principals of Kwanzaa, we will have a better way of life because these principals teach us how we should live’.
Kwanzaa was originally conceived during the African American re-identification period of the racially turbulent sixties in 1966. This unique African Americans festival of life and spirit realized it’s 52 year of existence in 2018, and has established its place in the world as a legitimate cultural tradition.
Janece Wooley, the Interim Executive Director of the Fredrick Douglass Community Associations said of the events, ‘we are excited to embark on 100 years of service to this community, and we want to continue to be the epicenter for hope and encouragement. We are very happy and proud that The Toledo Kwanzaa House has chosen us to be bless with this wonderful Kwanzaa celebration for the past three years.