Community

Kwanzaa Organizers Prioritize Local Pan-African Unity

As D.C.’s Pan-African community gears up for a bevy of Kwanzaa events later this month, fostering cooperation and accountability, as expressed in this year’s theme, has become the mission, especially for local groups on the cusp of generational shifts and leadership changes.

But some key organizers, including Imamu Kuumba, said the daily practice of the Nguzo Saba, also known as the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, in the New Year and beyond will ensure the continuity of grass-roots efforts to change the conditions affecting Black people in the District, nationally, and across the globe.

“The work after Kwanzaa is the real work that’s needed in our community,” said Kuumba, a founding member of the District’s Kwanzaa Planning Committee, an entity that has coordinated and publicized local Kwanzaa events for more than 40 years, most recently in the form of its annual Kwanzaa Calendar & Resource Guide.

The calendar and resource guide, chock full of images of local Pan-African community figures and information about Kwanzaa, lists dozens of community gatherings that will take place between December 26, the first day of Kwanzaa, and January 1.

During that week, Black people of various ages and organizational affiliations will more than likely assess how well they individually, and as a community, have lived up to the principles of Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

“We haven’t had the type of unity in the last four or five years we had hoped for,” Kuumba said.

He and other members of the Leadership Council for Pan-African Nationalism (LCPAN), a coalition of more than a dozen D.C.-based Pan-African organizations, have met weekly at Umoja House in Northeast to discuss community affairs and point out areas of improvement.

“A lot of organizations are doing serious internal work among themselves but the unity we have would be better for all organizations and the overall community. We’re attempting to build a stronger and more viable community,” Kuumba said.

In the weeks preceding Kwanzaa, Ujamaa School and Wilson Baker Homeschool Collective will host Pre-Kwanzaa celebrations in Northwest and Prince George’s County, respectively. The Kwanzaa opening ceremony on the evening of December 26 will take place at Northeastern Presbyterian Church in Northeast where LCPAN member organizations will touch on past work and announce what’s to come in 2019.

During events later that week, members of Woodson Banneker Jackson Bey Division 330 of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the D.C. Chapter of the National Black United Front, APPEAL, Inc., Ausar Auset Society, and other local groups will arrange Kwanzaa symbols and decorations — including the candle holder known as the kinara and seven candles representing the Kwanzaa principles — in a red, black, and green color scheme similar to the Pan-African flag.

On the last day of Kwanzaa, the DC Pan-Afrikan Council of Elders will present the African Consciousness Award to Bernida Thompson, founder of Roots Activity Learning Center in Northwest, and younger members of the community during its annual Community Kwanzaa Imani Celebration at Plymouth Congregational Church in Northeast.

“The generations are turning hands,” Kelechi Egwim, a 20-year member of the Kwanzaa Planning Committee. “We’re roughly 50 years from the height of the Black Power Movement so people from that era are in their early 70s. We’re in a period where we see young people taking the mantle. I also see more people connecting to the continent in significant, practical ways. It’s reflected in the celebration.”

Since the late 1970s, when LCPAN’s predecessor United Black Community coordinated the inaugural citywide Kwanzaa celebration, Black people in the District and in much of the Western Hemisphere have embraced Kwanzaa as a cultural holiday and opportunity to remain anchored in the First Fruit traditions that have existed long before Maulana Karenga and US Organization founded and first celebrated the holiday in 1966.

The pandemonium unfolding in these festivities, including vendors selling African-centered wares and art pieces, and the sounds of drummers, dancers, and spoken word artists, has become characteristic of quintessential Kwanzaa events, as they stimulate the senses of people experiencing mental and cultural repatriation.

Egwim noted that those elements further unite participants and reinforce the need for collective improvement in all aspects of the Nguzo Saba.

“Imagine if Black people lived by the tenants of unity, self-determination, cooperative work and responsibility, economics, creativity, and faith in the context of community,” he said.

“Faith is not about your faith in God, but that the work we’re doing will be successful. Kuumba is about us using our mental capacity to come up with creative solutions to our problems to benefit collectively. Imagine our direction if we can embed these principles in our people in a celebrative, festive way consistent with the African traditions of the First Fruits that bring us back home to Africa,” Egwim added.

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