Kwanzaa goes multicultural


The seven-day celebration has spread throughout Minneapolis schools to recognize diverse heritages.

Kwanzaa was born in Long Beach, California, in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University. The concept was conceived during those hectic days of the Black Freedom Movement in California, when on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement young Black Americans were desperately searching for an identity of their own.

Since then, Kwanzaa has evolved into a universally accepted African American and Pan-African holiday celebration, drawing from certain African traditions and customs translated into language that addresses modern needs and aspirations. The word “Kwanzaa” is a Swahili word meaning “first,” indicating the first fruits of harvest.

Nguzo Saba Kwanzaa – Principles of Kwanzaa

Umoja – Unity

Kujichagulia – Self-Determination

Ujima – Collective Work & Responsibility

Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics

Nia – Purpose

Kuumba – Creativity

Imani – Faith

Each year the tradition has expanded and taken on new meanings — especially in the metropolitan, center-city areas where large contingents of African Americans reside.

The growth of Kwanzaa celebration in the Twin Cities began accelerating about 14 years ago when a Minneapolis teacher at Lyndale Elementary School viewed the Kwanzaa holiday and its symbolic interpretations as a means of engaging her pre-teenage students with interest in their heritage. Titilayo Bediako, the teacher, started with about 20 students as a class project. The students embraced it so favorably that she decided to involve the entire school in the celebration.

Ms. Bediako left Lyndale School to form and head an Afro-centric academy called We Win Institute that is dedicated to the academic and social success of all children, with special emphasis on those having the greatest difficulties being successful in school and life. But, she did not abandon her enthusiasm for Kwanzaa as a teaching tool. To the contrary, she has been instrumental, with the cooperation of the Minneapolis Public Schools administration, in expanding the celebration district-wide throughout the system.

The initiation of Kwanzaa was of African and Pan-African origination; but as the We Win-Minneapolis schools celebration has expanded, it has taken on a multicultural flavor, asserting that the Kwanzaa seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, are universal and can be applicable to any heritage recognition. Thus, students from African, Asian, European, Latino and Native American communities participate in the seven-day celebration in recognition of the heritage of each group.

Kwanzaa at the History Center

The History Center’s annual Kwanzaa family celebration focuses on the fourth principle and value, Ujamaa, a Swahili word meaning “cooperative economics.” The concept stresses that dignity, self-reliance and responsibility of work and engaging in it cooperatively is for the common good of the community. Also known as the “Festival of the First Fruits,” the seven-day holiday is an expression of pride in African American heritage created in 1966 by Long Beach, Calif., professor, Maulana Karenga. Join family and friends in a unifying community experience, make art, shop for treasures at the Ujamaa marketplace, attend a drumming workshop and performance, listen to true stories from black entrepreneurs, and hear African folktales based on Ujamaa and other principles of Kwanzaa.

Minnesota History Center, St. Paul MN
Dates: Dec. 29, 2007
Time: Noon to 4 p.m.

Fee: $8 adults, $6 seniors and college students, and $4 children ages 6 to 17. Free for children age 5 and under and MHS members.

Kwanzaa at Pantages Theater

The Minneapolis Kwanzaa seven-day activity ends with a gala public celebration, which is rapidly gaining the status of a marquee event. This year it is being held in the downtown theater district’s Pantages Theater. The date for the event is December 29 at 7 pm.

It is rapidly becoming one of the more widely attended functions of the season. Students from throughout the district are bussed in for the occasion. Tickets are $15.

In addition to the colorful presentation of the participating schools and their various ethnic presentations, professional entertainers from the community will be providing their talents for the evening. Among them is Robert Robinson, Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir director, who has performed with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Prince; locally he is referred to as the “Pavarotti of Gospel.”

Also participating will be Robyne Robinson, award-winning Fox News anchor, always a favorite at local functions, and the dynamic Paris Bennett, the teenage sensation who captivated the country with her appearance as a finalist on the popular American Idol TV show. Paris will also receive an award, along with several other youth leaders.

Each year, local community leaders are given honorary awards at the celebration. Bediako stated, “It is important for our children to be able to feel, touch and experience our local leaders. These heroes have made a difference and paved the way to make a better way of life for them,” she stated.

Among those honored at the event will be Mahmoud El-Kati, former professor at Macalester College and generally recognized as the guru of African American history in the area.

In the interest of full disclosure, Titilayo Bediako is the daughter of Matthew Little (although this did not in the least compromise his objectivity in writing this story). For further information on the December 29 Kwanzaa celebration, contact the Pantages Theater at 612-721-2364 or 612-202-5832.

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