About 250 people showed up Thursday for a program celebrating the first day of Kwanzaa in the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave.
The seven-day celebration, which annually kicks off on Dec. 26, opened with a pulsating and rhythmic performance by African drummers Ras Jomo & Healing Hands, followed by a primer on the meaning behind the celebration.
Kwanzaa, which was created in 1966 by former professor of Africana studies at California State University Maulana Karenga, is celebrated around the world and has enjoyed a consistent and vibrant annual observance in Buffalo.
Modeled after harvest celebrations held on the African continent since antiquity, each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is organized around a specific principle and observed by lighting one candle for each day on a kinara, a candleholder with space for seven candles. The first day is dedicated to Umoja, or unity.
Local storyteller Karima Amin, founder of the advocacy group Prisoners Are People Too, offered those in attendance a primer on the different articles associated with the celebration, which were displayed on a table.
“That cup, that Kikombe cha Umoja, the cup of unity represents unity in the family circle, not just the family present here today, but those family members who have gone on and joined the ancestors, and those family members who are not yet born,” Amin said.
“We complete a circle. It’s not just about us here and now. It’s about those who came before us and those who will come after us,” she added.
Sabirah Muhammad was the keynote speaker for Thursday’s program. She noted that despite the poverty and rash of homicides that continue to afflict portions of Buffalo’s African-American community, there are signs of a reawakening.
“So we want to focus on that awakening in hopes of inspiring and guiding, especially our young people, to a better future, in spite of everything else they see around them,” Muhammad said.
Kwanzaa celebrations are scheduled to continue today through Wednesday. From 7 to 9 tonight, celebrants will observe Kujichaguli or self-determination, with a performance by the African American Cultural Center dancers and a keynote address by local jazz musician Pappy Martin at the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.
A demonstration of capoeira, a mixture of Afro-Brazilian martial arts and dance, will be among the highlights of a program observing Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, that will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Metropolitan United Methodist Church, 657 Best St. An evening program also is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave. Martin and the Love Supreme Orchestra are scheduled to perform, along with the local poetry group I Am Poets.
Karenga will be the keynote speaker for an event observing Ujama, or cooperative economics, from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday in the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt St. Local musicians Daughters of Creative Sound are scheduled to perform.