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Kwanzaa program celebrates black self-determination

Buffalo’s Kwanzaa celebration continued Sunday with a focus on the principle of “kujichagulia,” or self-determination.

Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world to bring attention to the best of what it means to be African.

The seven-day event stresses the dignity of people in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and the rich resource and meaning of a people’s culture. A different principle is celebrated each day.

On Sunday, self-determination was defined as a way of overcoming enslavement as the defining component of African-American history, said Samuel L. Radford III, chairman of Buffalo’s Kwanzaa committee.

“We cannot be stuck in the limitations of feeling that as a result of enslavement we are ‘less than’ and our people are ‘less than,’ ” he said. “We have to make sure our children understand we have a history before slavery. Slavery was a part of our history, but we have a history, our ancestors did great things.”

An audience of about 50 people in the CAO Rafi Greene Resource Center on Fillmore Avenue heard a historical perspective from Leonard Jeffries Jr., 78, founder of the black studies program at San Jose State College in California, and then for two decades chairman of the black studies department at the City College of New York. He is known for his Pan-African Afrocentrist views.

“We can’t accept what others have decreed for us,” Jeffries said. “Because Mother Nature has, and the Creator has decreed, that we are winners. We’ve won this humongous victory in terms of restoring our humanity. And the question is how far we want to take it. We are born to win, but we are programmed to lose.”

Although Jeffries is considered a controversial academic for his views, his perspective is valued because he draws on his actual experiences, Radford said.

“So much of our history has been limited to the slave experience and our experience in America, which is an important part of our history, but I think what Dr. J is saying is that we were Africans before we were Americans,” Radford said.

Later Sunday, the African American Cultural Center was scheduled to perform a showcase in the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.

On Monday, Kwanzaa celebrates “ujima,” or collective work and responsibility. Kwanzaa Consciousness Night on Monday will feature spoken word and a play, “Fesito Goes to Market.” Events will begin at 7 p.m. in Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave.

Radford said he has seen much growth in Kwanzaa since he became involved in the early 1990s when gatherings would attract only a handful of people. An opening ceremony Saturday in the Performing Arts school attracted 700 people, Radford said.

“To be in a room with 700 people is just a great growth of the tradition in our community,” he said.