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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Umoja at UMB: the Black Student Center Brings Kwanzaa to Campus

Vice chancellor Charlie Titus speaks at the Kwanzaa Celebration, hosted by the Black Student Center. Steve Osemwenkhae, BSC Coordinator, stands in the background
Negart Mortazavi
Vice chancellor Charlie Titus speaks at the Kwanzaa Celebration, hosted by the Black Student Center. Steve Osemwenkhae, BSC Coordinator, stands in the background

There were several visuals to take in at last week’s Kwanzaa celebration, but as Professor Jemadari Kamara acquainted the audience members with the candle holder with seven candles, the basket of fruit, the ears of corn, and each of their unique significance, the overriding message was of unity, or “umoja.”

Hosted by the Black Student Center (BSC), UMB’s celebration of Kwanzaa began with a warm welcoming from Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Charlie Titus. The afternoon then opened up to a presentation of speakers: Professor Anthony Van Der Meer, Professor Aminah Pilgrim, and Professor Jemadari Kamara.

Fendy Alexis, director of the BSC, summarized the arrangement of the presentation. “We asked Professor Van Der Meer to give a historical/factual account of Kwanzaa, while Professor Pilgrim gave her own personal version of the principles of Kwanzaa. And Professor Kamara brought the event to life by going through the rituals Professors Van Der Meer and Pilgrim spoke of.”

The seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and bears particular significance to African Americans and peoples of the African Diaspora.

According to the holiday’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, “Kwanzaa brings a cultural message that speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.” The observance of Kwanzaa is meant to reinforce seven core values seeking to strengthen the ties of culture, community, and family. Each day of the seven-day holiday represents each of the seven core values. The following are the guiding principles of Kwanzaa in Swahili and their translation in English: umoja, unity; kujichagulia, self determination; ujima, collective work and responsibility; ujamaa, cooperative economics; nia, purpose; kuumba, creativity; and imani, faith. Every day during Kwanzaa a candle is lit to symbolize each of the seven principles.

“The essence of Kwanzaa is unity, which is what the middle candle stands for-that’s what it all boils down to,” stated Kerlyne Cotard, assistant coordinator of the BSC.

“Look at the principles of Kwanzaa instead of just the rituals,” stated Van Der Meer. “Embrace the values, don’t just focus on the seven days-live with the principles 365 days a year. Make them a part of your life and internalize them.”

Pilgrim added, “My family and I made a conscious decision not to participate in the commercialism of the holidays,” when addressing the audience about Kwanzaa’s personal significance to her. “Rather than give material items, which we really don’t need, we decided to spend our time talking more to one another, visiting family members who might be alone-just giving people our time and our hearts.”

“We need to strive towards collective work and responsibility,” stated Van Der Meer, drawing the audience’s attention to the weight of the principles of ujamaa, or cooperative economics. “The entertainment industry’s emphasis on bling bling and individualism has made us forget our intrinsic principles of unity and self determination.”

The speakers emphasized that the internalization and application of the seven principles “would allow us to do more with ourselves rather than relegate in consumerism,” said Van Der Meer. “We will then be able to deal with the social transformation of ourselves and of this society.”

“Kwanzaa is not just for people of African descent, it’s inclusive of all,” stated Cotard. “You should show people that you are there for them, even if they are not family, no matter what. It should be just because you care.”

The BSC recognizes the importance of sharing the profound values of Kwanzaa with others. “The campus is like an extended family,” stated Steven Osemwenkhae, coordinator of the BSC. “Today’s celebration was a stepping ground,” he continued, recognizing that it had been some time since Kwanzaa had been last celebrated at UMB.

“Chancellor Motley was like ‘It’s about time!'” recalled Cotard as she laughed when telling The Mass Media about spreading the word earlier in the fall that the BSC had planned to host Kwanzaa this year.

“It was wonderful,” stated Motley after the event. “When I came to the university last year, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a Kwanzaa ceremony-I was adamant that the students do it this year.”

In reference to the significance of Kwanzaa to himself and his family, Motley continued, “I celebrate Kwanzaa in my home. The principles are ones that I use as guiding principles. I use them in my life every day. So I feel it’s important to share them as a value system for students and others as they go through their lives everyday.”

The coordinators of the BSC were pleased at the end of the celebration. “I saw attendees taking notes on their napkins,” stated Alexis. “It showed that the students were really interested.”

“I felt that the event was a success. It’s important for students to attend events like this to see what they can carry away from it,” stated Osemwenkhae. “All I have to say is look forward to next semester!”

The BSC plans to keep the principles alive as they actively plan for Black History Month in February and for the remainder of the spring semester. Speakers stressed that the essence of the principles should live beyond Kwanzaa and Black History Month. “The most important thing is that we add substance to our rituals,” reminded Van Der Meer at the end of his talk. “Once we have done that, the victory is ours!”