Kwanzaa celebration calls for community togetherness
By Nicholas Ibarra - San Jose Spartan Daily
Jan 22, 2015 12:43 am
In American culture and media, the winter holidays are dominated by talk of Christmas—talk that some would argue is only loosely disguised behind the now-ubiquitous euphemism of “The Holidays.”
On the fifth floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, however, a group of predominantly African-American men and women, some dressed in traditional West African garb, gathered on the evening of Dec. 30 to celebrate a very different tradition—a tradition that many have passingly heard of but far fewer understand: Kwanzaa.
The ceremony began with drumming and spoken word poetry, followed by a speech from Dr. Ruth Wilson, chair of the department of African-American studies.
Kwanzaa, Dr. Wilson said, is about shared values and history across the African and African American communities.
“To have purpose, to have a sense of unity, to help each other, to share—those core concepts are part of what it means to have a nation, and to embrace the fact that we do have a nation,” Wilson said.
Kwanzaa was created in 1965 by activist, professor and author Dr. Maulana Karenga as the first holiday to celebrate African-American history and culture. Each of Kwanzaa’s seven days highlights one of what Dr. Karenga called the seven principles of African American heritage: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.
This ceremony, taking place on the fifth day of Kwanzaa, was focused on the principle of Purpose. The exhibits in the King Library include a ceremonial table decorated with fruit, statues, and books and prominently feature a seven candle holder called a “Kinara.”
After her speech, Wilson invited people to share their experiences and memories of Kwanzaa. Ross Pusey, a community organizer working in San Jose, was one of the people who chose to speak.
“Now more than ever our young people need us,” Pusey said. “And not to tell them what to do—or where to go—but to ally with them and let them know somebody cares, let them know that they are important, that they are somebody, because that is not a message that they hear every day.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, then Mayor-elect, attended the Kwanzaa ceremony and gave a brief speech after the ceremonial lighting of the fifth candle.
“In every given moment we are interrupted, distracted, we are bothered by a text message, a tweet … by something that is distracting us from our real purpose, our deeper purpose,” Liccardo said. Those distractions, Liccardo said, can too often interfere with our ability to connect with one another. “Purpose is something we need to recommit to, not just once a year, but every day,” Liccardo said.
After the event Liccardo spoke to the Daily about the importance of multiculturalism in San Jose. Liccardo said what he appreciates most about Kwanzaa is the universality and inclusivity of its values.
“If there’s a path forward through the tension and strife that we see from Ferguson to New York, it seems to me that it’s an approach that engages people in dialogue listening without judgement,” Liccardo said.
The Kwanzaa exhibit and ceremony is now in its third consecutive year at the King Library, according to Kathryn Blackmer, Cultural Heritage Center librarian.
Dr. David Piper, one of the exhibit’s organizers, said he would like to see the event grow and become more of a focus for young people, specifically San Jose State University students.
“Make it an icon in this library,” Dr. Piper said.