Queens celebrates Kwanzaa

By Tom Momberg

The seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa, now drawing to an end, is a holiday observed by American black communities to practice moral principles and to honor their African heritage.

The borough president’s African American Heritage Committee got together to host Borough Hall’s second-annual Kwanzaa celebration Monday, on the third night of the holiday.

There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, each represented by a different day and by a different candle on the Kinara.

The third night — when about 70 people of all different ethnic backgrounds gathered at Borough Hall — represents the principle of “ujima,” calling on people to build and maintain their community and solve problems together.

As Queens marked the holiday, Borough President Melinda Katz said the principle up for reflection that day could not have been more fitting.

“Kwanzaa symbolizes tradition — a tradition that connects us and binds us to kinship and our history,” Katz said. “Kwanzaa also allows us to invite others to learn about our customs and that is why we are here today because we are the borough of Queens — 130 languages spoken in our school system and over 120 countries right here. We celebrate our diversity and we celebrate it together.

The other six principles of Kwanzaa — “umoja” meaning unity, “kujichagulia” meaning self-determination, “ujamaa” meaning cooperative economics, “nia” meaning purpose, “kuumba” meaning creativity and “imani” meaning faith — each tied to parables and encourage people to examine and build their character all year long.

“These are universal values that can cross cultures, cross ethnic ties and gives us something that relates to African traditions,” African American Heritage Committee Chairman Andrew Jackson said. “It’s about celebrating all of the hard work of this year, and you’re preparing yourself for all of the hard work for next year. It’s not a replacement for Christmas — it’s non-heroic, non-political and non-religious, so it doesn’t exclude people.”

Jackson has been putting together an annual Kwanzaa celebration for 35 years at the Langston Hughes Community Library in Corona, where he serves as the executive director.

In celebration of Kwanzaa at Borough Hall, Jackson conducted a libation ceremony and lighting of the Kinara. Girls of the Edge School of the Arts dance group based in Laurelton performed “The Day is Past and Gone” as an homage to the late black choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey.

Kwanzaa was originally created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a black American professor, author and activist most notably as part of the Black Power movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The language used for Kwanzaa, the seven principles and the correlated parables derives from the East African language of Swahili, although the holiday itself is only celebrated among American black people.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.