Kwanzaa celebrates universal concepts, community


Far from being a holiday only for African Americans, everyone can learn from and enjoy the universal values that Kwanzaa celebrates, said a spokesperson for the Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association.

For the past 12 years, the association has held a public Kwanzaa celebration, and this year’s was held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on North Avenue on Dec. 29.

Kwanzaa was created in the 1960s to reinforce seven basic African values, said African Heritage Association Spokesperson Pamela Pennywell. But, she added, those values are universal.

They are unity, self-determination, collective work responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa corresponds to one of the values.

“[Kwanzaa] is important because the values are important,” Pennywell said. “We enjoy it because it’s non-denominational and anyone can glean something good from it.”

Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year and a candle is lit for each day, similar to the Menorah of the Jewish holiday Hanukah.

The one black candle in the center of the kinara (Swahili for candle holder) represents the black race. The three green candles on one side of the center black candle stand for Africa, and the three red candles on the other side stand for African blood that has been shed.

The association’s Kwanzaa celebration this year included a performance from Umoja Dance Company, as well as food, vendors, a display of quilts made by the association’s own Nia Quilt Guild and free books for children through the Reading is Fundamental program.

Children also received a zawadi bag, a Kwanzaa tradition, filled with healthy snacks.

The vendors at the celebration embody the principal of cooperative economics, Pennywell said, which is the value celebrated on Dec. 29. That doesn’t mean the event focused solely on that value, though.

For example, creativity was represented through Umoja Dance, and collective work responsibility was represented with the display of quilts, which are made by a group rather than an individual.

Many other organizations, including the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and Addison Behavioral Care held Kwanzaa celebrations on different nights.

Pennywell said the number of Kwanzaa events around the city has increased in recent years and now it’s possible to find an event on almost every night of Kwanzaa.

The point of their events, she said, is to give families, friends and the community a place to come together, enjoy themselves and celebrate African heritage and each other.

For more information, visit the Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association’s website at

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