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Kwanzaa observants stand united

Kujichagulia -- self-determination -- is the principle celebrated on the second day of Kwanzaa, the cultural holiday observed internationally by people of African descent.

So when Wednesday's featured speaker, Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga, was grounded by repeated flight delays, the assembled crowd exercised their own form of self-determination in the auditorium of the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue.

In doing so, they celebrated the first day's principle -- Umoja (unity) -- as well as those of days to come, including Kuumba (creativity).

This year is the 40th anniversary of the seven-day celebration, which Karenga started in 1966 in California, where he is a professor in and chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Abu Bilal Abdur-Rahman started Wednesday's program by asking the elders present for permission to speak and then proceeding with a traditional libation ceremony, during which water is poured onto the soil of a live plant in remembrance of departed ancestors and family members.

Abdur-Rahman led the standing-room-only crowd in "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is known as the Black National Anthem. He and L. Nathan Hare, executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County, displayed and explained the symbols of Kwanzaa -- such as Muhindi (ears of corn), which represent children.

Forty-five minutes into the program, Makeda Holley, chairwoman of the Buffalo Kwanzaa Committee, announced that repeated flight delays would prevent Karenga from arriving until well after the night's program was over.

But Holley assured the crowd the program would go on.

One audience member was pressed into service for an interactive, bebop retelling of the story "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."

"The moral to this story is when you've got a lot of time on your hands, learn to be a little creative," she joked. "The second moral is . . . don't tell lies. When you finally get around to telling the truth, ain't nobody going to believe a word you said."

Next, interpretative dancing, singing and drumming filled the room with energy.

Since Karenga couldn't make it, someone who celebrated that first Kwanzaa 40 years ago in California was asked to fill in. That was Daryl Rasuli, communications manager for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

"I don't know how to follow all those acts," Rasuli began.

Rasuli praised the Kwanzaa organizers and celebrants for their reaction to the news of Karenga's absence and cited it as an example of self determination.

"There was no 'What do we do now?' " Rasuli said.

"This is a valuable thing, so don't sell yourselves short. You defined who you are in just a few minutes," he said.

"Don't let people tell you what you are. You make up your mind . . . and be that," Rasuli said.


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