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For decades, Fletcher Daniels has looked forward to the seven days after Christmas.

Kwanzaa, the African cultural holiday launched more than 50 years ago, has become a tradition for the Detroit resident and his family. On Wednesday, they headed to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for the first night in a week-long celebration.

“It gives an opportunity to learn about African culture and the diaspora,” said Daniels, who attended with his wife, two children and other relatives. “It’s important.”

The notion informed the start of “Kwanzaa at The Wright."  Through New Year’s Day, the museum, with the African Liberation Day Committee, hosts public gatherings related to the holiday that toasts family, community and culture.

Kwanzaa formed in 1966 through efforts by African studies professor Maulana Karenga. It is named after a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits of the harvest” and related celebrations in Africa, coordinators said.

True to the period’s roots, African traditions and culture inform the festivities, with feasts, music, dancing, poetry and stories. 

Each night focuses on a specific principle. And on Wednesday, the opening evening, a crowd of more than 350 people filled the venue's General Motors Theater to highlight the first: umoja, or unity.

The concept centered on connecting family, community, nation and race is even more relevant in 2018 as minorities grapple with issues such as profiling, mass incarceration and economic inequality, said Charles Ezra Ferrell, the museum’s vice president of public programming.

“We continue to fight,” he told the crowd.

While acknowledging current affairs, the ceremony also traced the past.

Libations were poured to honor the lives and spirits of countless ancestors, including those who died during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and national civil rights icons.

Participants also lit the first candle in the traditional kinara as well as highlighted the holiday’s symbols, including crops spun from collective labor and a unity cup showing how togetherness creates a foundation.

“It represents the fact that we are all the same,” co-host Tanissa Williams said.

Participants browsed vendor tables and displays featuring kaleidoscopic gowns, glittering bracelets, history books and other fare.

The atmosphere encouraged Annette Mason, a Detroit resident who has been celebrating the holiday since the 1980s.

“It keeps me grounded,” she said. “It happens at the best time of year. It helps teach the children how to work together.”

The celebration was illuminating for newcomers like Kayla Adams, a Detroiter who joined her aunt.

“It’s black history, period,” she said. 


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