A Weeklong Celebration of Community, Faith, & Purpose

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How the Hill City celebrates Kwanzaa
Photos courtesy of Sheron Simpson

For the uninitiated, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration—beginning on December 26 and ending on January 1—where family and community join in fellowship to honor their ancestors, tighten bonds, celebrate African heritage, and enjoy meals, readings, storytelling, drums, and poetry.

The holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chair of Black Studies at California State University in 1966, with each day of the week representing one of seven principles. The seven principles are:

Umoja
Unity

Kujichagulia
Self Determination

Ujima
Collective Work and Responsibility

Ujamaa
Cooperative Economics

Nia
Purpose

Kuumba
Creativity

Imani
Faith

A candle is lit nightly on the Kinara (candleholder), usually by a child surrounded by family to signify that day’s principle. These principles, called Nguzo Saba in Swahili, are a set of ideals that emphasize the importance of tradition, family, community, and heritage. For those who celebrate, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to study and reflect on history, tradition, and legacy.

Sheron Simpson, a Lynchburg native and founder of Kuumba Dance Ensemble, a nonprofit West African Dance group, has been integral in bringing Kwanzaa celebrations to the Hill City.

“It’s been an opportunity to learn more about my African roots,” reflected Simpson, recalling the discoveries she’s made while personally celebrating Kwanzaa. “It has been said that if you do not know where you come from, you will not know where you are going.”

Kuumba Dance Ensemble alongside The Legacy Museum of African American History and the Lynchburg Parks and Recreation, have been providing an annual Kwanzaa Celebration for years.

“The museum committee invited various members of the community to represent the principles and Kuumba Dance Ensemble, Inc. participated, with the children lighting the candles, singing, dancing, poetry reading, along with the performance of the drummers,”
explained Ramona Battle, Chair of the Exhibit Committee and the Governance Committee at the Legacy Museum. “The program was held in the Miller Center theater. After the celebration program, various food offerings were available to all who attended and participated.”

“Kuumba Dance Ensemble has become one of the instructors of Kwanzaa thanks to the Legacy Museum and Lynchburg Parks and Recreation,” Simpson furthered. “These two groups provided the opportunities for us to teach about Kwanzaa one bite at a time. So, we started in 2019 sharing one piece of Kwanzaa that could be ingested in a two-hour format. Last year, the Legacy Museum gave the charge to the Kuumba children to create the celebration and activities that they would like. They created videos that canvassed over a period of 7 days, presenting Kwanzaa in its entirety. For me, I simply enjoy sharing how Kwanzaa is for everyone, because it is a celebration of family values.”

During the pandemic, the event was held virtually via YouTube and Channel 15, and it will continue to be held virtually this year as well. Everyone—regardless of age, race, or background—is encouraged to join in the Kwanzaa celebrations.

“Kwanzaa has been one of the premier programs of the Museum,” explained Battle. “I share the responsibility of coordinating the program with long-time board member, Mrs. Phyllistine Mosley. We depend on the members of the community to enhance the festival through their participation, which allows us to showcase this important celebration.”

Folks hoping to participate in this year’s Kwanzaa celebrations can continue to do so virtually via Channel 15, where it will air each day, or via YouTube where it will be uploaded after its initial air on television. All event details can be found on the Legacy Museum and Parks and Recreation website.

“Kwanzaa does not take away from those who celebrate Christmas, it is in addition to Christmas and begins the day after Christmas. This is a time to celebrate unity, family, cooperative economics and instead of buying gifts use your hands to make gifts for children and family,” Simpson concluded.

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