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Kwanzaa's creator hails Buffalo's role in keeping annual observance vibrant

For more than 25 years, Buffalo has maintained a special relationship with Kwanzaa, and the creator of the seven-day, Pan-African celebration has maintained close ties with Buffalo.

Maulana Karenga, a former professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, attracted an overflow crowd of about 300 Tuesday for a program dedicated to observing the third day of Kwanzaa. The event was held in Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.

During a news conference before the program, Karenga expressed his admiration for the work put forth annually by the Buffalo Kwanzaa Committee to keep the 40-year-old holiday alive.

"Second, I come to reaffirm, to support the work that they do because it's a good work," said Karenga, who was joined Tuesday by his wife, Tiamoyo.

"Since '82, I've built relationships [in Buffalo]. One of the things that Kwanzaa stresses is family and community, and [Buffalo] is a family and community for me," Karenga added.

Kwanzaa, he said, was modeled after first-fruit harvest celebrations celebrated across the African continent since antiquity. When Karenga first thought up the idea for the celebration in the mid-1960s, he organized it around seven days, with each day representing a principle, observed by lighting a candle in recognition for that particular principle.

Tuesday commemorated the principle of "ujima" Swahili for collective work and responsibility.

"Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday. It's not a religious holiday. It is to celebrate ourselves as African people," Karenga said.

"African culture, the most ancient culture in the world, is deep enough, wide enough, resilient enough to include all those traditions that black people follow, whether it's Christian or Muslim, Baha'i or Jewish or Buddhist, or to follow the traditions of ancient Africa."

Karenga added: "Kwanzaa embraces all black people, regardless of their faith, and it is not an alternative to their faith. It is not a challenge to their faith. It is a challenge to us to stand up and speak our own special cultural truth and to make our own unique contribution to the form and flow of human history."

Mayor Byron W. Brown also welcomed back Karenga, who has made many trips to Buffalo over the years.

"I'm reminded that I first met Dr. Karenga in 1978, when I was a student at Buffalo State College, and Kwanzaa is part of Buffalo's history," Brown said. "But to have the founder and creator of Kwanzaa here certainly is very meaningful to our community."

Sharon Holley, longtime chairwoman of the Buffalo Kwanzaa Committee, also announced Tuesday the unveiling of a new website, in cooperation with Buffalo State's Monroe Fordham Regional History Center. The center has been able to digitally archive records and photographs chronicling more than 30 years of Kwanzaa celebrations in Buffalo.


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