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African-Americans must rediscover their role as "generational custodians" to find their purpose in today's world and uphold a legacy that stretches back to the dawn of civilization, Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram said Sunday during Nia, the fifth day of the community-wide Kwanzaa celebration.

"Our purpose must be as custodians of this universe. We must move beyond the earthly so that we can move into the spiritual, so that life on Earth can be better, not just for us today but for generations to come," Mrs. Brooks-Bertram told about 100 people in the Metropolitan United Methodist Church at Best and Herman streets.

While Kwanzaa, the seven-day African-American holiday celebrated between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, is not connected to religion, Mrs. Brooks-Bertram used the sacred texts of the Kemites of ancient Egypt to define Nia, or purpose, for African-Americans in the modern world.

She is a project director for an AIDS prevention program and holds a doctorate in public health. She was the keynote speaker.

Mrs. Brooks-Bertram is scheduled to visit Egypt to further her studies on ancient culture.

Nia was the principle theme of Sunday night's Kwanzaa program.

"Nia is a commitment to the collective vocation of defining, developing and defending our national community, its culture and history, in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness as a people," she said.

Mrs. Brooks-Bertram said African-Americans should oppose war in the Middle East in order to spare lives and be ready to fight major corporations, which are depleting the Earth of its natural resources in the name of profit.

"We have to put steel-toed work boots next to our Air Jordans so that we can go into the Amazon jungles and fight the paper companies, who are destroying the rain forest. Sixty-six percent of the world's oxygen comes from the rain forest," she said.

Mrs. Brooks-Bertram, a leader of Concerned Parents and Citizens for Quality Education, a group that often finds itself in conflict with the School Board, asked others to join her.

"We have placed ourselves between those ignorant, mean-spirited members of the Griffin gang on the Board of Education. We believe that their actions are contradictory to the African purpose: the education of all children," she said.

Dr. Monroe Fordham and his wife received a Kwanzaa tribute award for their role as a successful couple in the community.

The Kwanzaa community program continues at 7 p.m. today at the Moot Senior Citizen Center, 292 Orange St., where Kuumba, or creativity, will be the theme of the celebration and Karamu, or a potluck feast, will be held.

Donations for the feast should be free of pork, red meats and alcohol.

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