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Even in pandemic, Kwanzaa traditions stand strong in Metro Detroit

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In the last days of each year, Kwanzaa comes with activities that celebrate African tradition and culture, connecting Metro Detroiters to the past while they focus on preparing for the future.

The same concepts apply as for the week-long holiday on Saturday. However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused attendees to rethink the celebrations – most are switching to a virtual format or with plenty of space.

As challenging as 2020 was, some say adherence is especially important to inspire followers to move forward, rebuild, and thrive.

“We want to increase interest in Kwanzaa and not let it go at all,” said Anemashaun Bomani, who heads the Detroit chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “It is important that we emphasize this in our community and around the world.”

His group is among those who hold a ceremony every night during a Kwanzaa event hosted by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Kwanzaa was started 54 years ago after Professor Maulana Karenga’s work on African Studies and it usually lasts seven nights. This corresponds to the number of principles that followers must follow.

The dancers of Alkebu-Lan Village perform African dance on the first day of the 2019 Kwanzaa celebration.

Known as the seven pillars, they are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economy, purpose, creativity and belief.

From Saturday through January 1 at 7:00 p.m., guests can log on to thewright.org or visit the city’s Channel 22 to see a presentation by the museum and one of its partners focused on the principles.

On Sunday, Bomani’s group will present a moderated conversation with renowned writers Gloria House and Haki Madhubti, “some of our long-established revolutionary people,” he said.

Whether on a digital screen or, as in previous years, sitting on a stage: “We just want to celebrate the traditions of Africa,” said Bomani. “We want to continue and promote this. It’s part of our culture that was taken, so Kwanzaa is one of the ways it’s preserved. “

The pre-recorded ceremonies also include songs, dances, storytelling, poetry readings, lighting the candles in the kinara or the candlestick, and explaining the seven principles.

“Access to tradition is very important for so many people, especially this year,” said Yolanda Jack, educator and director of the Kwanzaa museum. “There have been so many problems that have made people realize what is really important. As a result, people in the church understand these seven principles. So many of us really survived 2020.”

Independent South Book Detroit City City is also planning a virtual Kwanzaa celebration on Saturday. According to coordinators, professional black storytellers will be featured.

From left, Gabriella Ware, 9, of Detroit pauses after eating her donut to check while her brother John Ware II eats his donut at Detroit Farm & Cider on Lawrence Street in Detroit on November 9, 2020.  The location is open on the weekends until December 5th.  Kwanzaa celebrations and year-round programming are planned.

For those looking for a more interactive, personal experience, Detroit Farm & Cider on the west side of the city has seven days of free fun on this nearly five-acre site of heated greenhouses.

These days, visitors can find activities related to the holiday traditions and the name Swahili, which means “first fruits of the harvest”. These include dance troop performances, herbal medicine making, a day devoted to volunteering, goods from local black-owned companies, lessons in history and self-defense, and African food offered by the Fork city restaurant in Nigeria.

Visitors are required to wear masks and practice social distancing. In the meantime, they are being asked to donate clothing and canned food for people in need.

The gatherings are aimed at creating a safe, encouraging environment in a dark time, said owner Leandra King. “This is about community and unity, mutual support and positive energy. It’s about giving where it’s needed and being prepared. “

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Dusty Kennedy