“If we stand tall, it’s because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and elders.” African Proverb
That message, delivered succinctly by Lucy Taylor, summed up much of the theme of this year’s Kwanzaa celebration, held Saturday afternoon in the fellowship hall of Mallalieu-Jones United Methods Church.
The event was sponsored by the African American Historical and Genealogical Society, and drew a crowd to celebrate the holiday, which organizer Dr. Evelyn Thompson said is designed to instill principals of cooperative living and respect for heritage.
Kwanzaa celebrates seven principles, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith; principles Thompson says are critical for today’s African-American.
“This isn’t just a celebration for a day or a week, it’s hopefully a lifestyle that can be lived year-round,” she said. “I’m hoping that we have families and individuals living by these principles. I’m hoping that our adults will view the meaning and importance of them, and teach and live them throughout the year.”
And those principles are spiritual tenets that help followers live a holy life said the Rev. Thomas Williams of Shiloh Baptist Church.
“The principles of Kwanzaa are Godly principles,” he said during the celebration’s opening prayer. “We should all follow them. Let them digest into our hearts, so they will become part of our daily lives.”
In addition to the seven tenets, Thompson said the celebration of Kwanzaa is designed to help people remember those who came before.
“If we don’t remember our history, it dies,” she said. “We are people with a responsibility to document our history. This is a job we have to do for our ancestors because they lived and paved the way for us here today.
“When you don’t know where you came from, how do you know where you’re going?” Thompson asked rhetorically.
And it’s critical to spread the ideals and message of Kwanzaa to young African-Americans, she added.
“This is an important celebration because it’s a cultural celebration for African-Americans,” she said. “All groups in America have a culture, and as African-Americans, we don’t often learn much about the African culture. I feel like it’s important to learn and remember.”
It was a message that resonated with 12-year-old Darius Nicholson, who attended the celebration with his mother Marie.
“I’m part African, and for me it’s fun,” he said. “I get to meet new people and learn about our heritage and traditions.”
Kwanza is a Swahili word meaning “first fruits” of the harvest. It is a holiday celebrated at harvest time before the dry season begins in those countries. Kwanzaa is observed by millions of people throughout the world as a way to connect and celebrate African family relationship, responsibility to community and culture.
It began in 1966, when Maulana Ron Karenge, a professor of black studies at the California State University, saw a need for Americans of African lineage to hold a regularly scheduled celebration for cultural aspects of Africa. In turn, there is ongoing learning and reminder of the cultures of Africa. This led him to travel and study the celebrations in various African countries in the western, eastern and southern parts.