Although Kwanzaa, the festival celebrating African-American culture and community, lasts just seven days, many communities spend months preparing each year.
“Kwanzaa itself is important,” said Terry Chaka, co-chair of the coalition and executive director of The Baobab Cultural Center in Rochester. “It's an important cultural holiday that highlights the good in the community and gives particular focus to African-American youth.”
With those youths in mind, Rochester's weeklong Kwanzaa celebration — which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year — holds most of its events during the daytime.
“Since the focus of Kwanzaa is the youth, these events give them something to do while they're home from school and before it gets dark,” Chaka said.
Each of Kwanzaa's seven days is dedicated to a principle that should be celebrated yearlong. In addition to Ujamaa, the principles (also called Nguzo Saba) are: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies at California State University in Long Beach, created Kwanzaa and its principles in 1966. The first community Kwanzaa celebration was held in Los Angeles.
Rochester's first community-wide Kwanzaa event was held in the early 1980s and Chaka was a part of it.
“Kwanzaa was created as a cultural holiday because there wasn't one within the black community,” said Chaka, who celebrated her first community Kwanzaa celebration in Buffalo in the 1970s. “It's a time to recognize the good in the community and emphasize how we'll bring that good into the new year, not just for our own community but the entire world.”
Since Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, celebrators can be of any faith or no faith at all.
“The festivities are open to everybody,” Chaka said. “People who are not familiar with Kwanzaa can come out and learn. All of the holidays are wonderful, but we need to understand what everyone celebrates and we need to appreciate and celebrate each other.”