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My Detroit Story: Kwanzaa

in My Detroit Story by

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African traditions and values. Dr Maulana Karenga introduced Kwanzaa to the world in 1966. The culmination of Dr. Karenga’s collective studies, travels, and understandings of African culture created Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa takes place during the last seven days of a closing the year while beginning the next (December 26 – January 1).

As a child my family celebrated the tradition by defining and conceptualizing the principles of Kwanzaa. Each day of Kwanzaa recognizes one of seven principles, which make up the Nguzo Saba. The seven principles are: Umoja for Unity; Kujichagulia for Self Determination; Ujima for Collective Work and Responsibility; Ujamaa for Cooperative Economics; Nia for Purpose; Kuumba for Creativity; and Imani for Faith. I believe Dr Karenga recognized these African traditions as most empowering for African American people during the 1960’s moving forward.

The beauty of Kwanzaa I’ve always found was that the principles are also strong values of character for all people.

In 2007 I began hosting Kwanzaa celebrations for Detroit. My original wish for the celebration was for it to become a reasoning to support Black restaurants and cultural entrepreneurs (clothing stores, art dealers, etc) for the seven days of the celebration. The first Kwanzaa event I hosted was at the Woodward restaurant in the Compuware building of Downtown Detroit. Owner William Cartwright welcomed the event. It was very well attended. It began a series of intergenerational events I’ve become synonymous with producing today.

Last year marked the fourth Kwanzaa celebration I co-produced with the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History. Museum coordinator and education advisor Yolanda Jack has worked with me to help honor the tradition overtime. Participants have included my cousin Reverend Mayowa Reynolds of Fellowship Chapel, my godmother the honorable JoAnn Watson, Elizabeth Whittaker of Nsoroma Institute, Claretha PEACE Bell, Detroit NAACP Executive Director Donnell White, Sterling Toles, Eddie Connor, and the late Brenda McGhee.

This year will mark my fifth year co-producing the celebration with the museum. One of my strongest supporters of Kwanzaa celebration, and mentor Judge Claudia Morcom passed away in the summer of 2014. In honor of her legacy I plan to recognize her for this year’s celebration. We met in 2007, and upon my invite, she attended my first Kwanzaa celebration. She also helped produce my 2009 Kwanzaa event with Yusef Shakur at the Renaissance Club.

Judge Morcom also hosted a series of Kwanzaa celebrations herself. Kwanzaa’s relationship to Detroit and Detroiter’s runs deep. Elder Paul Taylor and the Inner City Sub Center hosts one of the longest running Kwanzaa celebrations in the world. Today he collaborates with Marvis Coefield and Mama Sara at the Alkebulan Village. Also resident Detroiter and Aisha Shule/ WEB DuBios Prepartory founder Imani Humphery wrote the book “First Fruits” which is recognized by all as the most accurate text on the celebration, tradition, and foundation of Kwanzaa. Also another one of my mentors who passed away this year Chokwe Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Organization have celebrated Kwanzaa in Detroit since the 1970’s.

This year’s celebration at the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History will welcome a series of days full of activity, interaction, and engagement for all ages. The Shrine of the Black Madonna, Nsoroma Institute, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Association will all host Kwanzaa celebrations at the museum. I will co-produce my celebration for Kuumba on December 31 2014. If you and your family are interested I welcome you all to join me for this year’s Kwanzaa event.

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