The third annual Kwanzaa Celebration, hosted by the Essence Book Club, was held at Indian River Library on the afternoon of December 27, 2014. This was a very festive afternoon of education, music, arts and crafts, games, celebration and good food, with 67 people in attendance. This was a gathering in celebration of Kujichagulia, or “self-determination.”

Many people probably do not know much about Kwanzaa or its significance. I know I counted myself among those before this event. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Krenga as a cultural festival which honors African-Americans and their ancestral roots in Africa. “Kwanzaa” is a Swahili word meaning “first fruit.” It is a celebration of the bounty of the earth. Through the “Nguzo Saba” (seven principles), Kwanzaa inspires and encourages self-sufficiency as well as dignity, pride and respect in the rich heritage of African culture.

I learned that Kujichagulia means “self-determination” – thinking, acting and speaking for oneself rather than being defined, named, created and spoken for by others.

After the opening procession and welcome, Barbara Alexander of the Essence Book Club told a story about a baby eagle with self-doubts who learned how to believe in himself, spread his wings and fly. Next, the children in the audience went to work on arts and crafts celebrating significant African-American figures in history, while the remaining adults were split into two teams, Team A and Team B. They were competing in a contest, the object of which was to identify the most persons being described as an example of Kujichagulia. Team A and Team B took turns “at bat,” so to speak. One or two contestants were chosen from each Team to stand and take two minutes to describe, either by acting out, dancing or simply reading a clue, the person in question. Each respective team then had to guess who the person was, calling out the name. Whichever team identified the most persons would be the winner. Many famous and important figures who exemplified Kujichagulia were described, including Thurgood Marshall, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Nat Turner, Charles Drew, Jackie Robinson, Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois any many, many more. Team A won, 23 to 21.

Perhaps the highlight of the program (at least for me) was the musical performance and storytelling of Atumpan and the Talking Drums (headed by Corey and LaQuita Marie Staten). The musical portion of their segment was based on a hypnotic rhythm pattern played on hand-held drums (the “Talking Drums”) as well as shakers and other small stringed instruments played by audience members which were handed out by LaQuita Marie to the spoken chant of “my happ’-i-ness is your happ’-i-ness.”

 

Interspersed with the music, Corey Staten related to the audience traditional stories of self-empowerment that have been told for generations in Mali and other African nations. On a side note, traditional African music, based in Mali and Niger, is one of the main roots of blues and rock-and-roll music, but telling that story would require not only another blog but a whole dissertation to cover adequately, as well!

After a poetry reading by CJ Brooks and an inspiring spoken segment by Arcelia Barcliff on Kujichagulia, encouraging positive self-esteem and the singular uniqueness of each individual, the ceremonial libation was read by Barbara Alexander, in honor of the rich tradition of African culture celebrated by Kwanzaa.

The last hour of the program was spent in fellowship, where everyone could share the celebration of Kujichagulia over traditional home-cooked food. I tried baked chicken, string beans, potato salad and lemon cake for dessert.

 

I found this program to be tremendously educational, inspiring, exciting and fun all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the musical portion performed by Atumpan and the Talking Drums, as well as the inspiring stories of important African-American persons in history and the present, and I gained a greater appreciation of the rich tradition African-Americans have to draw on.

This event would not have been possible without the tireless efforts and dedication of Dr. Tenesha Bazemore, who is the director of the Essence Book Club. Dr. Bazemore planned and coordinated every step and activity of this rich and diversified program, from the slide show and powerpoint presentations that played on the screen behind the presenters throughout the program to the fun and informative pantomime Team A vs. Team B contest, the poetry readers and storytellers, the coordination of the supplies for the libation and the food for the dinner that followed and, not least, the choice of Atumpan and the Talking Drums to perform. Dr. Bazemore was ably assisted by Ms. Barbara Alexander, who provided books on Kwanzaa for sale and planned and coordinated the children’s arts and crafts activities, as well as many of the other members of the Essence Book Club, who set up the tables and prepared the food for everyone to enjoy. Dr. Bazemore’s efforts resulted in everyone who attended learning much about Kwanzaa and its significance that they did not know before they attended.

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