MIAMI — The thumping sounds of Bata and Djembe drums began as a High Chief dressed in African garb led similar-clad members down the aisle in a colorful parade known as the procession of elders.
Just before taking their seats, High Chief Nathaniel B. Styles shouted, ‘Habari Gani,’ which means in English ‘What’s the news?’ The audience responded, ‘Ujima,’ the word for collective work and responsibility, the principle of the third day of Kwanzaa.
It was one of several Kwanzaa celebrations that were held throughout the city’s black communities last weekend as community leaders and activists observed the African-American holiday with traditional ceremonies and speeches to build self-esteem and academic excellence among youths.
In Liberty City, about 200 residents attended the 24th annual Mary Williams Legacy Kwanzaa Celebration on Saturday at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center where Nigerian Prince Emmanuel Aderele and his ensemble, The OsunaDara Yoruba Dance Theatre, accompanied by young drummers Kaden Bowden, 9 and Miguel Russell, 11, aroused the audience with various musical tributes. The Girls’ Choir of Miami also performed.
“It’s all about paying homage to all slaves and ancestors, who paved the way for us, “Aderele said. “It’s all about the next generation, the kids.”
Styles, officiated the event which was sponsored by The Miami-Dade Chapter of the FAMU Alumni Association and Community Builders Holistic Development Corp., a non-profit agency that creates artistic programs that promote cultural identity and pride in black communities. Styles serves as its executive director. Romania Wilson, a FAMU alumni, who emceed the opening and welcoming remarks, led a black family pledge.
Other related events held that weekend were ‘Sounds of Kwanzaa,’ a youth dance program held earlier at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and The First Community Kwanzaa Program and Concert at Little Haiti Cultural Center.
At the Kwanzaa celebration at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, Styles led exercises called Name the Libation and Call of the Ancestors of Audience, during which participants called out the names of deceased relatives, thanking them for their contributions to their family.
But youths were the focus of this year’s Kwanzaa ceremonies, where girls brought objects representing Kwanzaa’s seven principles to a table as they were read by Vanessa Woodard Byers, daughter of the late FAMU Alumni Mary Williams Woodard whom the Kwanzaa Ceremony pays tribute.
The event keynote’s speaker, Charles W. Cherry II, an attorney and publisher of the state-wide black newspaper, The Florida Courier, is the author of Excellence Without Excuse: The Black Student’s Guide to Academic Excellence, a self-help book of study skills he gained while pursuing business and law degrees from the University of Florida.
Cherry reminded youths and teenagers of their heritage and the economic possibilities in Africa. But he also the cautioned parents about the academic realities in the U.S.
“Our kids are now competing against Chinese and Asian kids who attend school six days a week,” he said. “There are no more excuses. Our kids must succeed.”
Performers and leaders, dressed in traditional, colorful African garb, used the holiday to empower pride and hope in youths, emphasizing Africa’s rich cultural heritage and historical achievements.
Founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a black professor at California State University, Kwanzaa is a Pan-African and African-American holiday that was created during the Black Power movement to express ethnic identity and pride as an alternative celebration to the Christmas holiday. Kwanzaa, which traces its origins in the first harvest celebrations in Africa, translates from Swahili to mean “first fruits of the harvest.” The holiday celebrates the family, community and culture of the African Diaspora for seven days from Dec. 26 to Jan 1. Each of the seven days honors a different principle believed to build strong productive families.
Since its beginnings, Kwanzaa’s popularity has spread to an estimated 2 million blacks in the U.S. who celebrate the holiday, along with a growing number in Canada. At Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center on Sunday, the First Community Kwanzaa Program and Concert was held in its theatre; 200 residents viewed plays, musical tributes and dance ensembles geared toward promoting healthy self-esteem among youths.
The event featured performances by The Delou Africa Dance Ensemble and a solo song performance and modern dance by Shandella Johnson and Miami Northwestern student Andrew Bryant respectively.
The event’s keynote speaker, State Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-39th District, encouraged youths to persevere through difficult times.
“Our history does not begin with slavery. It begins in the continent of Africa,” Bullard said. “Our ancestors had it tougher than us. Your sole purpose in life is to do better.”