Arts & Culture

Embracing Kwanzaa culture

The University’s Black Student Union is working to share the joy of Kwanzaa both with students who have celebrated for years and those who are just curious what it is all about.

Kwanzaa takes the African-American struggle for civil rights in the 1960s and combines it with ancient African traditions for an African-American celebration that stresses the importance of family, community and culture. Celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa dedicates each day to seven principles of African culture and history.

The seven principles include unity within the family and community, self-determination to speak and create for ourselves, collective work and responsibility as a community, cooperative economics within the community, purpose to develop as a group and maintain traditions, creativity within the people, and constant faith in the group, leaders and purpose.

The BSU hosts an annual Kwanzaa event to celebrate African-American culture and teach others the meaning of the holiday. This year’s event will be Dec. 6 in the EMU Ballroom from 6 to 9 p.m.

“We just try to get the community to come out and support us; it’s really open to anybody who wants to learn about Kwanzaa,” said sophomore Kendaris Hill, vice president of the BSU.

Although Hill has always celebrated Christmas with his family at home, he participates in the BSU’s celebration of Kwanzaa and appreciates its purpose.

“I never really celebrated Kwanzaa before; it was always Christmas for me and my family, but after joining the Black Student Union I’ve definitely embraced it more,” Hill said.

Hill emphasized how many African-American students learn more about their roots and culture when they come together to celebrate Kwanzaa for the first time at the University. Senior Mike Reta, president of the BSU, began celebrating Kwanzaa during his freshman year of high school.

“I joined a rights of passage program for African-American males, and it was interesting
because we did similar things that the BSU is doing to celebrate, like skits and food. I’ve always had a good experience with Kwanzaa,” Reta recalled.

The event will feature skits, videos, poetry and traditional soul food prepared by the BSU, such as peach cobbler, mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas.

Junior Teeona Wilson has been a member of the BSU since she was a freshman at the University and she will host this year’s Kwanzaa celebration.

“You can say what the principles of Kwanzaa are, but you need to experience them with a skit or video to understand what the principles really mean,” Wilson said.

Wilson grew up celebrating Kwanzaa every year with her family, and she enjoys bringing that background to the BSU celebration.

“Every day symbolizes a different principle, and we would light a new candle and we made gifts to put on the dinner table to symbolize giving … a lot of Kwanzaa is about coming together as a community and as a family to remember our history,” Wilson recalled.

Wilson and her family also celebrate Christmas, as many of the values that Kwanzaa emphasizes are similar to principles of Christmas as well, such as the notion of giving.

“Every Christmas morning, we would go to the homeless shelter to serve food instead of opening gifts. Just remembering our roots and where we came from is really important, and my parents tried to instill in us that it’s about giving back during Kwanzaa and Christmas, not necessarily always getting gifts,” Wilson said.

Anyone is welcome to join in and learn about Kwanzaa and its significance.

“Even though it is an African-American-based holiday, people shouldn’t be shy about joining in and celebrating with us,” Hill said. “Whether or not someone grew up celebrating Kwanzaa or they are just learning about it at the University, it’s important because it opens the eyes of others to different cultures here on campus, and allows black students and people of color in general to get in touch with our roots and learn more about us and our history.”

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