Young Detroiters giving a fresh spin to Kwanzaa
One by one, people spoke about the special meaning of Kwanzaa in their lives -- how unity is needed to strengthen the African-American community and why faith, purpose and support for one another are valuable.
After they spoke, Khary Frazier of Detroit lit candles representing each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
"We do this so people of all ages can have a better understanding of the universal beliefs," Frazier says later.
While celebrating Kwanzaa isn't unique, the ceremony Frazier organized Sunday was.
It was held at a trendy downtown Detroit restaurant -- the Woodward -- and organized by Frazier, 26, a hip-hop artist and educator, and William Cartwright II, 39, co-owner of the restaurant.
Some observers say Sunday's program shows how a new generation is taking Kwanzaa -- a 42-year-old tradition -- and making it their own.
The seven-day observance of Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration of principles rooted in African beliefs.
Each day represents a different principle -- starting today with Umoja, which means unity, and ending Jan. 1 with Imani, which means faith. For the next seven days, people like those who gathered at the Woodward will come together in public places and private gatherings to honor the principles and pay homage to ancestors who struggled and sacrificed to improve the lives of African-American people.
When California activist and educator Maulana Karenga conceived the idea in 1966, he envisioned people focusing on one principle a day for each of the seven days. While that still happens, many people now celebrate all the principles at one gathering, usually including a feast called the Karamu. Karenga also sought to combat the commercialism of Christmas. If gifts are given or exchanged during Kwanzaa, they should be homemade in recognition of the principle of Kuumba -- creativity.
Sunday's celebration was infused with Kuumba, including a spoken-word performance by poet Khary Kimani Turner, pouring of libations to honor the ancestors performed by Oya Amakisi, a gospel song led by the Rev D. Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park and a musical performance by Frazier's band, General Population.
Frazier says he wanted to put on the program -- begun last year -- to help his generation understand the importance of history, culture and community. Many Kwanzaa celebrations are put together by baby boomers or planned for young children.
A celebration organized by the members of the hip-hop generation, but meant for people of all ages, is rare.
"We want to help the community, especially our young people, connect to our culture," Frazier says, adding that hip-hop's roots are culturally based and relevant to Kwanzaa principles.
Cartwright not only opened his restaurant for the event, but provided a free meal of baked chicken, rice and salad for approximately 120 people.
"Being an African American-owned restaurant, I just think it's important to recognize and celebrate it," Cartwright says. "Kwanzaa is also about supporting African-American businesses, and this is my contribution, my way of giving back."
Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, who was honored for her community service, praised Cartwright and Frazier for recognizing the importance of Kwanzaa.
"I just came from a conference where the founder of Kwanzaa, Mr. Karenga, was among the people there," Watson says, "and to come home to see these young men leading the next generation in a Kwanzaa program and connecting with people -- from young people to our elders -- it's extraordinary.
"This is what we've been working for, to have young people like this who we can hand the mantle to."
Watson adds that renewing the principles of Kwanzaa is especially important in today's economy.
"At these times of economic challenges, people need hope, faith, unity and self-determination," Watson says. "We need these principles of Kwanzaa to see us through and provide a vision to propel us to a better future."
Contact CASSANDRA SPRATLING at 313-223-4580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.