West Virginians prepare for annual Kwanzaa celebration

December 28, 2018
Katonya Hart, shown here in 2015, is one of the organizers of Charleston's annual Kwanzaa celebration, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 28.

CHARLESTON — While Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday that started Wednesday, celebrants in Charleston will focus on the holiday’s third day — Ujima, which honors the principles of community building and problem solving — for the city’s annual Kwanzaa celebration.

On Friday, Dec. 28, at 1 p.m., all are invited to the Unitarian Universalist church on Kanawha Boulevard to celebrate the holiday, which honors the culture and traditions of African heritage. Friday’s event will include educational programming, a potluck dinner and different performances throughout the evening.

“We celebrate each principle of Kwanzaa throughout the week in our homes, but this is the one community day to come together and remind people of what these principles mean and how we can honor them,” said Katonya Hart, an organizer for the event.

Hart said this is the 15th year the Charleston community has come together for the holiday. A joint effort between the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the Collective Works of Heritage Towers, the Partnership for Furthering Arts and Education and the Baha’i Faith, this year’s celebration will be split into two sections.

From 1 to 3 p.m., attendees are invited to educate themselves on Kwanzaa and its seven principles, which are each honored for a day during the holiday: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“I’m excited with what we’ve been talking about to provide opportunities for parents and families to learn about Kwanzaa,” said the Rev. Caitlin Cotter Coillberg with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. “A child’s most important religious educators are parents and caregivers. It’s part of our philosophy to support that education.”

Attendees will have the opportunity to learn the origin of the holiday, which started in 1966 as an effort to unify the African-American community and focus on solution-oriented problem solving and conversations. They will learn some Swahili words and responses, what different colors signify for the holiday and other traditions that have evolved as a part of celebrations.

“Kwanzaa is a very new holiday, and one of the best things about that is people can create their own — you know, I hate to say traditions, because these things can change as we do — but they can honor in their own way and bring their experiences to the celebration,” Hart said. “This isn’t a substitute for Christmas as a lot of people think. It’s simply coming together, being able to look each other in the face, share some time and through those experiences develop a common language.”

Hart hopes to start the event with high energy and urges everyone who attends to bring some sort of noisemaker for the annual drumming circle — “a tambourine, an empty can, a spoon, a washboard. Anything that can help you make noise with us, and out of that noise we can hear the music in between.”

The second portion of the evening, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., will be more of a performance segment, with a potluck dinner. Anyone who attends is urged to bring a dish to share if they are able.

Hart said she sees a few newcomers each year, and many make efforts to become more involved as years progress. She hopes that, if nothing else, the annual celebration can help educate community members on the purpose of the holiday.

“We want people to come ask us questions and knock on our door. That’s what Kwanzaa is about — stepping out of that comfort zone and seeing there’s those of us that are willing to help you become you,” Hart said. “You’re never too old and it’s never too late to try something new or learn something unfamiliar. It’s easy to become a part of the whole through Kwanzaa—it helps you feel like there are more people to support you, and for you to support them.”

Caity Coyne is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The Ground Truth Project. Reach Caity Coyne at caity.coyne@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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