The spirit of Umoja warmed the Langston Hughes Center Friday as Africa came to Buffalo in the spirit of rhythmic drummers and inspired dancers at the start of the seven-day Kwanzaa celebration.
Tina Miller of Buffalo was one of the approximately 400 people who crowded into the center at 25 High St. She brought along her niece, Danielle, 3, and proudly watched her grandson, Simba, 9, perform with the Children of the Sun.
"Christmas is one day, and this is seven days of celebration," she said. "It teaches children their inheritance, where they came from and teaches them about their ancestors as well as what goes on today in Africa because it's still celebrated."
Kwanzaa is based on the Nguzo Saba, the seven principals of community and nation-building. Red, green and black banners behind the podium displayed the themes for each day: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa, (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
The evening began with those attending, many wearing African articles of clothing, honoring their ancestors. As Akil Ajmau poured the "libation" or water from his cup into a large philodendron plant, people would call out the names of dead relatives followed by "ashai," amen.
Dorothy Hill welcomed the audience, reminding them about the importance of learning and honoring their African culture.
"If we learn all seven symbols as best we can, then truly our community will be restored and resurrected," she said.
Then Baba Issa and his fellow drummers began calling to one another and the audience, talking with their drums. With each crescendo, the crowd applauded and when the drummers began pounding in unison, a group of barefoot young girls converged in traditional African dance.
James McClain of Buffalo, a former traditional dancer himself, had brought his daughter, Jamia, 3, son, Tyshawn, 7, and his friend, Antonio, 7. He said the seven days of Kwanzaa provided an important opportunity for himself and his children to learn about their culture.
"I try to teach the kids about the different days of Kwanzaa," he said. "Today is unity day for the family, and for us to get together and work together. We plan to attend each night."
The whirl of swaying arms and pounding drums continued as eight other young women wearing black dance tops and colorful African-print skirts replaced the earlier group of dancers.
The audience reflected their pride and ability with cheers of encouragement, music to their teacher, Asantewa Holley, a sophomore at City Honors High School.
"These are West African dances of celebration," she said. "We pick them because they fit the meaning of unity."
After the traditional entertainment, Ajmau urged the audience to be sure children were educated about their culture and proud of their heritage, something that he suggested public schools failed to do.
"Lions don't send their children to elephants to learn, they send them to lions," he said.
The Kwanzaa celebration continues today at the African-American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Ave. with Karima Amin, a storyteller. An African marketplace will be available along the lines of the theme of self-determination, and more dancers and drummers will be performing.