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The people in charge of the event called it a way for young African-Americans to learn more about their culture.

And they certainly were right.

About a dozen people wore traditional African garb to the inaugural Communitywide Kwanzaa Celebration Monday afternoon in Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center. Mothers brought their children to listen to a demonstrative presentation by Colia Clark, manager of the Social Justice Center for Albany.

Clark sang and acted in the persona of Harriet Tubman, the African-American woman who led slaves to freedom in Canada.

She grabbed people from the audience, urging them to come along the road to freedom in the North. Wearing a green dress, white head wrap and white socks, Clark performed much of her show among the audience.

The 40 or so people attending the event gathered on Kujichagulia, day of self-determination.

The Rev. W.H. Grooms Jr., chairman of the Niagara Falls Faith Based Collaborative, said he thought the day had been a success. The entire event runs through Thursday.

"This is an educational type of thing . . .. Kwanzaa is to heighten our awareness of our own cultural background, so we've done that," he said.

Grooms denied that African-American youths have lost their culture. "It's not so much that they're losing, it's that they never even knew about it . . . . There's an awful lot of pride in who we are."

Renee M. Mathews of Niagara Falls brought her 8-year-old son, Desai, and 12-year-old nephew, Byron Stewart, to the event -- "Just to give them some culture, give them an understanding of what Kwanzaa's all about."

Gwendolyn Barnes of Niagara Falls was there with her three granddaughters. "I think it's important. It's extremely important," she said.

The girls already have begun to learn about important achievements by African-Americans in the Kalfas Magnet School, Barnes added.

The Rev. Micah D. Chandler, administrative chairman for the Niagara Falls Faith Based Collaborative, wore a colorful dashaki, a midlength tunic, and a white kufu hat, embroidered in gold, to show his African-American heritage.

Chandler also said Kwanzaa is important for educating the youth. "A people without history are people without a future, and if our kids don't learn about their history . . . they have no future," he said.

The event continues today with Ujima, day of collective work and responsibility.

The father of Kwanzaa, Maulana Karenga, was to be present at a book signing in the Niagara Falls Housing Authority Family Resource Building, 3001 Ninth St.

Wednesday is Ujamaa, day of cooperative economics, at Victory Family Christian Center, 1601 Cleveland Ave. There will be a minority small-business fair at 6 p.m., a Renaissance plan unveiled at 7 p.m. and a ceremony at 8 p.m.

Thursday is Nia and Kuumba, day of purpose and creativity, with a Citywide Youth Extravaganza at the Community Center, 15th Street and Center Avenue. There will be a black artist marketplace at 6 p.m., a youth contest at 7 p.m. and a ceremony at 8 p.m.

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