On Dec. 28, the Community Empowerment Association held its 15th annual Kwanzaa celebration, complete with live entertainment and traditional gift- giving.

Kwanzaa is a weeklong holiday following the seven principles of African culture. CEA’s celebration followed the theme for the first day, Umoja, which means unity.

“The goal is for the mind-set to spread into the community,” said CEA founder Rashad Byrdsong. “Building self-determination and self-consciousness is the purpose of Kwanzaa and a philosophy in which we live. It’s our way of keeping the rich tradition community-based and community driven.”

KWANZAA—The New World drummers perform traditional African drumming.

Martell Covington, who has been involved in the celebration since the start, has played an integral role in marketing and coordination of the event for the last four years.

“We want to show the importance of community and also that we value the community in which we work and live in,” Covington said. “This celebration gives us all an opportunity to reconnect with individuals that we may not have seen in a year or longer.”

The other six principles of Kwanzaa are Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

“These seven principles are seven pillars on which our people should stand. These are qualities that we as individuals must first possess then they should be displayed in our community,” Covington said. “Our community can not be successful, can not thrive or prosper without them.”

“The most important message of Kwanzaa to me is the messages behind the days and how each day is symbolic for Kwanzaa. To be able to concentrate on each principle to build for tomorrow is key for our people and its the only time when its really celebrated,” said Jacquea Mae, a Community College of Allegheny County student who attended the event. “Also, to the fact that Kwanzaa is not about the food, the events or even the people, its about working on ourselves, our families, our communities, our people to build for a better future.”

Mae said even if African-Americans do not celebrate the holiday, the principles of Kwanzaa are fundamental to their culture and essential to achieving success.

“Kwanzaa is important for African-Americans because it is a cultural alternative holiday for us and we get to remember our past, celebrate our past, and plan for the future,” Mae said.

The celebration included performances by the New World drummers, Zulu Kings, Ibegi African drummers, NAKA Entertainment and the Balafon West African ensemble.

“My favorite part was the African dancing, whether it was the children or the adults celebrating the unity of our people,” Mae said. “It was beautiful.”

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