Kwanzaa celebrations in Detroit reflect on unity

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — In a darkened auditorium, dozens of voices shouted in unison to name the momentous occasion that brought them together Tuesday evening: “Kwanzaa!”

More than 350 people packed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for the first event in a week-long celebration commemorating the annual cultural holiday.

Launched by African studies professor Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa — derived from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits” — is celebrated Dec. 26-Jan. 1 and is modeled after harvest celebrations in Africa, coordinators said.

Each day revolves around the corresponding principles. Tuesday’s observances, presented in partnership with the African Liberation Day Committee, centered on umoja, or unity.

As political clashes roil communities, environmental degradation continues, and civil rights struggles are pushed to the forefront nationwide, that theme becomes imperative, Paul Taylor, chair of the ALD committee, told the audience. “It’s working in unity and harmony that will keep us together.”

The current climate pushed Doria Colson-Barnes of Oak Park to join her mother, husband and 6-year-old son there to experience dancing, drumming, historical highlights and unique vendor fare.

“With all the things that are going on in the world, it’s more relevant,” she said.

Though a central component of the holiday is heritage and history, attendees also focus on the future.

Some of the seven candles on a kinara handle traditionally lit during the period symbolize what lies ahead. And in that vein, organizers urged attendees to consider how today’s actions would reverberate for the next generation.

“We gather here today … to reflect on what has happened this past year, but also to prepare for making this world a better place,” said Charles Ezra Ferrell, the museum’s vice president for program development. “We have to fight for our children.”

Amid speakers and performances, visitors also perused goods at the tables in front: an array of glittering earrings, colorful garments, portraits, fragrances and more.

Among them was Patrice Lee, a Detroit-based author and speaker who displayed an array of self-published inspirational books. She believes the crowds are continually drawn there each year for the diverse offerings.

“They know they are able to find something they might not find somewhere else,” she said. “Each of us has something unique.”

For others, the celebration represented a chance to meet like minds, learn more and boost engagement in the new year.

“It’s beautiful,” said Tash Moore, a social media entrepreneur. “It’s a great opportunity to celebrate black American identity.”

Kwanzaa celebrations

Where: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit

When: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 26-30; 3-5 p.m. Dec. 31-Jan. 1

Cost: Free and open to the public. Entry into exhibitions included with museum admission.