Special to AmNews

Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday, is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, and the children of Sankofa International Academy in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held a pre-Kwanzaa celebration for the community Friday with a ceremony that embodied a true understanding of the principles of Kwanzaa.

When Dr. Maulana Karenga founded this holiday in 1966, he probably did not envision children internalizing the seven fundamental principles in such a passionate and committed way as to be able to demonstrate them with emotionality and ownership to the elders of the community. Kwanzaa means “first fruit.” The seven principles are known as the “Nguzo Saba,” and there are also seven symbols that are associated with the ceremony.

The students, aged 6 to 14, all dressed in African attire and led by Kelsey Hair, explained the meaning of Kwanzaa. Individual students explained the seven symbols, which were on the display table. The symbols were a decorative mat (Mkeka), on which other symbols are placed; corn (Muhindi); a candle holder (Kinara), with seven candles (Mishumaa Saba); a unity cup for libations (Kikombe cha Umoja); and gifts (Zawadi). This detailed introduction was followed by the naming of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). The students, in their own words, explained the meaning of each principle as it pertains to the African culture. The ceremony culminated with the singing of “The Seven Days of Kwanzaa” and exchanging of zawadis, handmade gifts.

City Council Member Inez Barron, a staunch Sankofa supporter, attended the ceremony. She said that she, “is always fascinated by the abilities of the Sankofa students and the fresh approach they bring to cultural lessons.”

The community residents and parents in attendance were encouraged to see the young people give their own rendition of the ceremony, and Neddi Stoute, wife of renowned jazz artist Ed Stoute, was brought to tears. She said, “I have traveled all over the country and gone to Kwanzaa celebrations among the most educated in the highest of places, but never have I been so moved by any of the ceremonies. The spirituality and deep understanding of all aspects of Kwanzaa, as given by these children, is an experience that should be shared with the world!”

Sharon Barnett-Burrows, director of Stuyvesant Heights Neighborhood Center, where the students perform community service, gave gifts from the students’ mentors and seniors. She encouraged the children “to continue their studies and not be ashamed to show their greatness.” This message was also reinforced by the founder/ director of the school, Ollie McClean, who said, “The students continue to rise to every demand of their educational journey, and although maintaining the school for the past 30 years has been a struggle, I am constantly gaining strength from Harriett Tubman’s message, ‘If you are tired, keep going. If you are hungry, keep going,’ for our future leaders, the children, must be given the tools they need to survive.”

Kwanzaa is a time of recommitment to the highest cultural ideals in an effort to bring out the best of African culture. It is a time to celebrate the Good. The Good of family, community and friends. This pre-Kwanzaa community gathering, led by the children, definitely paid tribute to the rich cultural history of people of African ancestry.