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Kwanzaa History is Black History

Written by Tyisha Blade

The Black Studies Program’s Annual Kuumba Arts Festival celebrates African American history while commemorating Project 400.

Kwanzaa is an annual seven-day event created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to celebrate African American history while bringing together the community to cherish and embrace one another. Kwanzaa is centered around Nguzo Saba or the seven principles. During each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, a new principle is highlighted to educate the masses about African-American history. Kwanzaa is marked by highlighting a new candle on the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra. Seven candles are placed in the kinara—three red on the left, three green on the right, and a single black candle in the center. The word kinara is a Swahili word that means candle holder. These principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). The principles are originated from the Swahili language and the practices are tradition in the Black community.

Each year, Cleveland State University’s Black Studies Program presents the Kuumba Arts Festival to reflect on the harvest of African-American ancestors and the contributions of the present community as we push forth and continue to strengthen our solidarity. This year’s celebration, Echoes From the Past, was directed by Prester Pickett, M.F.A., coordinator of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center. It served as the culminating event of the Fall activities associated with Project 400, Cleveland State’s year-long commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving in the present-day United States. The event also used performance art to highlight traditions associated with efforts to abolish slavery, pronounce citizenship and secure suffrage.

Performances included acts from the Warrensville Heights choir in conjunction with the Heritage Chorale, African drumming and dance by members of the Djapo Cultural Arts Institute under the direction of Talise Campbell, music from the R&B group SweetEven, hip hop acts, poetry and more. This is just one of several initiatives of the Black Studies program that amplifies the voice of African-American people while giving praise to our ancestors.


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