Kwanzaa celebration draws big crowd

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It wasn’t just a “Homewood thing” or a “Black thing,” it was a community thing. And on Dec. 28, the community extended across Pittsburgh and beyond as Folks celebrated the Community Empowerment Association’s 19th annual Kwanzaa celebration.

“We had more than 700 people this year,” said CEA President and CEO Rashad Byrdsong. “We had folks from across the city, and from McKeesport, and we had a lot of White folks sharing as well. There was dancing, gifts, poetry, drumming, food. It was great.”

Kwanzaa is a collectivist celebration developed by Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a means for African-Americans to reconnect with their African history.  Each day of the seven-day observance celebrates one of what Karenga called the seven principles of African heritage: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Because the name is derived from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits of harvest,” Byrdsong traditionally focuses the CEA event toward the needs of youth.

“We need to focus on young people because they are our harvest. We have a lot of families impacted by substance abuse, educational failings, violence, and family relationships have been fractured, so this is about embracing those young people,” he said. “It was very nice to see a lot of youth there.

This kind of cultural celebration allows us to renew those relationships, and strengthen them through communalism, collectivism and resiliency.”

Some of the activities and entertainment at the all-day event included performances by the BALAFON West African Dance Ensemble, the Ibeji Drum Ensemble and Amir Rashad, the Storyteller.

Events also included additional drum and dance performances, specialty vendors, cultural and art activities for children, and a presentation of the Community Building Awards.

“Additionally, we also honored our elders as well, those who came before us and struggled for racial justice because we can’t do this by ourselves,” said Byrdsong.

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