African Americans United hosted its first annual Kwanzaa celebration Friday at GW’s University Club. The celebration included traditional Kwanzaa rituals as well as an African dancer, poetry readings and a guest speaker.
“We started the event (at GW) because we wanted to continue the tradition of (AAU),” said sophomore Monica Seldon, AAU activities director. “We were getting less participation from the University, and we wanted to bring people together.”
Kwanzaa, which means “the first fruits,” began in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University at Long Beach, as an African-American holiday. First-year medical student Martha Evans founded GW’s AAU three years ago.
The seven-day celebration, which highlights seven principles related to the group’s African past and American present, traditionally runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. But the event was held close to Thanksgiving to “give thanks to our beautiful black community,” said junior Shauna Carter, AAU secretary.
The principles celebrated at the Kwanzaa ceremony were: Karamu, a feast; Zawadi, gifts; Kuumba, creativity; Nia, purpose; and Umoja, unity. Other principles of Kwanzaa include: Kujichagulia, self-determination;Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; and Imani, faith. These principles center around a Kinara, a candle holder with seven candles, which are the Mishumaa Saba.
Kengmo, a performer from Cameroon, and several poets personified the principle of creativity. The feast included fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, vegetable rice and peach cobbler. Gifts donated from area businesses also were raffled off.
Author and guest speaker April Brandy addressed the responsibility of the black community to care for its members.
“To reach down and pull up somebody else, that is what Kwanzaa is about,” Brandy said. “It is a responsibility that lasts 365 days a year.”
Decorations at the event featured red, black and green, which symbolize the blood shed by African Americans, the color of their skin and greenery in Africa.
“Kwanzaa is neither political or religious, it is simply a time of (reacquainting) African-American people with their ancestors and culture,” said sophomore Gloria Sasu, AAU treasurer.
“(The Kwanzaa celebration) was everything I had always envisioned,” Evans said. “We had been talking about it ever since the group came together. It was very energetic and alive.”
The Black Peoples’ Union, Student Association, Diversity Program Clearinghouse, Marvin Center Governing Board and Multicultural Student Services Center co-sponsored the event.