nathanial-b-styles-web-2.jpgDrums sounded, a community danced and an African prince ate fire to celebrate Kwanzaa and honor the life of a local “Queen Mother” who died earlier in 2010.

The Mary Williams Woodard Legacy Kwanzaa Celebration held Dec. 26, drew a multiracial gathering of more than 100 to Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

The celebration has been held annually for 21 years but was renamed this year after Woodard’s death as a tribute to her service as an educator and dedication to the event.

The Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Association, in partnership with Community Builders Holistic Development Corporation, headed by Romania Wilson and Nathaniel B. Styles Jr., respectively, sponsored the free public celebration as one of the activities marking Kwanzaa.

The program compressed the seven-day celebration of the African-themed holiday into a few hours, starting with recognition of elders and “Queen Mothers” – respected elderly women — and a tribute to the ancestors.

Traditional and contemporary drumming, ceremonial African dancing, African hymns and spoken word poetry were included, along with a presentation on Woodard’s legacy and explanation of the seven symbols and seven principles of Kwanzaa, along with a silent auction.

One of the most intriguing acts was Nigerian Prince Emmanuel Abiodun Aderele, an international visiting artist at the Osun Village and African Caribbean Cultural Arts Corridor in Miami, who performed a tribute to the African deity of thunder and fire.

Styles, who was invested with the title of chief by the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana and has helped plan the celebration for more than 13 years, said it was fitting to name it after Woodard.

“Due to her work as an educator, long-standing contributions to the culture and 23 years spent promoting the principles of Kwanzaa, we thought it only right to rename this event in her honor,” Styles said.

Miami Dade County School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, a former Florida House representative, was among those who were impressed with how the celebration has grown.

“I’ve been coming to this event for over 17 years and in all that time have probably only missed one. It is a delight to see the celebration expanding to the community of not just African Americans but the entire community. The culture should be known by everyone,” Bendross-Mindingall said.

Members of Woodard’s family echoed that sentiment, while expressing delight over the tribute paid to her.

“I’m elated that they decided to do something like this and know my wife would have been very happy.  This is educational because a lot of people don’t know from whence we came,” said Arthur Woodard, 82-year-old widower and husband of 58 years. 

Nivia Woodard, 29, agreed with her grandfather.

“It feels good knowing that people acknowledge the significance of my grandmother’s contribution to educating people about the Kwanzaa holiday, particularly as I look around and see so many different cultures taking part in this event which started out so small,” Nivia Woodard said.

Styles said the organizers will continue to bring awareness of the importance of Kwanzaa.

“We have a culture that predates our experience with the Middle Passage,” Styles said, referring to the name given to the route slave traders once took. “It is important for us to be educated about, recognize and embrace it.”