University of Nebraska at Omaha students, faculty and staff and the Omaha community gathered together for a Kwanzaa celebration in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom Dec. 1. All were welcomed as community members shared the history, culture and traditions of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is a week-long African-American holiday established in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. The holiday is based on an African cultural ritual of the first fruits celebrated after harvest. The idea of honoring the fruits led to a seven-day celebration to keep the tradition going. Each day during this week-long celebration, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa are practiced.
“Each of the seven principles represents some part of the community,” Rev. Dr. Nikitah Okembe Imani, former chair of the black studies department at UNO said. “Whether it’s unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility or cooperative economics, the idea of this celebration is to build the conception of community and to link it to the past, present and future.”
For each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit representing the seven principles of the holiday. The seven principles are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamma (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).
UNO graduate Vickey Parks has been celebrating the tradition of Kwanzaa in North Omaha for 40 years.
“In North Omaha, we traditionally take one principle between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 and we take that one principle for that day and celebrate around it,” Parks said.
Parks keeps the tradition of Kwanzaa growing in her family. Not only does her family celebrate Kwanzaa, but Christmas as well.
“My family celebrates both Kwanzaa and Christmas because I didn’t want my kids to go through school Monday and not have any gifts to talk about,” Parks said.
Even though Kwanzaa and Christmas may be two different holidays, they both share similar traits. For children who celebrate Kwanzaa, gifts are given throughout the seven days of celebration but differ from Christmas presents.
“Presents aren’t like Christmas presents,” Imani said. “They aren’t materialistic things. They are cultural things, maybe books about history or seeds that the children can plant and grow food.”
With the tradition and culture of Kwanzaa continuing to grow, UNO’s Kwanzaa celebration took over the Milo Bail Student Centers Ballroom. Musical performances,
guest speakers and an honoring of December graduates took place during the celebration.
The December graduates were honored during the Donning of the Kente, in which the graduating students received stoles made out of cloth to symbolize academic achievement.
“Every seat was filled since the event started. It was very enjoyable offering people some food and music,” Imani said. “When I was young, very few people knew what Kwanzaa was. Now major cities like New York, Chicago and Atlan-ta have city-wide Kwanzaa events. I think it’s big and it will continue to get bigger.”