A holiday for the community 

click to enlarge Kwanzaa's celebrants span multiple generations. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Kwanzaa's celebrants span multiple generations.
While religious holidays loom large in December, the cultural holiday of Kwanzaa celebrates Black identity and community. This year's series of events, presented by the Rochester Kwanzaa Coalition from December 26 through Janaury 1, is themed “Harambee! Let’s All Pull Together.” The focus emphasizes the participation of community members who create, share with, and benefit from one another.

click to enlarge Hand drums and the kinara, or candleholder, are common signifiers of Kwanzaa. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Hand drums and the kinara, or candleholder, are common signifiers of Kwanzaa.
Terry Chaka, an elder advisor with the coalition, said the holiday highlights the positive cultural legacy of the Black community.

“We have to understand that we have a history to be proud of, because we're not taught our history in our schools,” she said. “And therefore, we have to celebrate the good that we know that we do in our communities all the time. The only thing that gets press is the bad.”

Kwanzaa is also about goodness.

“The meaning of Kwanzaa is bringing good into the world,” she said. “And so it has to begin somewhere. So it begins with us, it begins with the people who attend Kwanzaa.”

Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on one of the holiday’s seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The principles are highlighted through participatory activities like music, storytelling and theater, and crafts.

click to enlarge The Kwanzaa holiday emphasizes community participation. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The Kwanzaa holiday emphasizes community participation.
For example, on Kwanzaa’s first night of Umoja  — or unity — storyteller and coalition member Reuben J. Tapp Sr. will present a pair of folktales, including “How the Skunk Got Its Smell,” which will be performed by audience volunteers who act out the narration.

The community celebration will also benefit from artists such as musician Khalid Saleem, whose drumming will lead participants in the daily calling of the people, and visual artist Ya’qub Shabazz, who made a new kinara, or candleholder, for this year’s holiday.

For more information on this year’s Kwanzaa celebration, go to facebook.com/RochesterKwanzaaCoalition.

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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