September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Celebration of Kwanzaa begins

ELYRIA — The Christmas holiday may have just ended, but the Kwanzaa celebration has officially begun.

The African-American holiday celebrating family, culture and the year’s harvest in Africa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year. It was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an activist and professor at California State University, Long Beach.


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JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Adesina Odiduro, 10, of Oberlin, lights the first candle Wednesday during a Kwanzaa celebration at the Elyria Holiday Inn.

Minister Gerald Evans, 62, CEO of the First Community Interfaith Institute in Elyria, brought the celebration to Lorain County in 1978, and has opened up the annual festivities to everyone, no matter what their  ethnic background.

“We wanted the whole community to know that we did have a holiday, and it was very positive,” Evans said. “The perception is that only African-Americans can celebrate it, but with so many blended families now and so many people out there who need to learn more about our history and culture, we couldn’t just leave it in the African-American community.”

Kwanzaa, derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits,” was modeled after Karenga’s work in the 1960s with poor African-American children whose parents and caretakers couldn’t afford presents, according to Evans.

Each day of the holiday represents one of seven principles of the holiday — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith — with a daily lighting of a candle. The candles are placed in a holder called a Kinara that serves as a common symbol of Kwanzaa.

Evans expects upward of 300 people to attend the weeklong celebration he has set up at the Elyria Holiday Inn this year, with nightly events featuring readings, songs, poems and other writings centered on the principle for the night.

The celebration is free . Evans said the more people who attend, the merrier.

“We want to get people to join a movement in diversity that’ll bring peace and harmony to the community,” he said. “St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, but other people celebrate it. We want to eradicate fear and increase diversity and people’s awareness of where we are and where we’re going.”

On Wednesday, the first of seven principles, “Unity,” was celebrated with a discussion about how a unified community makes for a strong one.

Homemade gifts, along with items such as pencil and paper, are handed out to children to emphasize education and learning throughout the African-American community, and the week-long celebration culminates with a special dinner.

“People who are interested in attending have got nothing to fear,” Evans said. “It’s a good, positive activity. They may learn something.”

Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.