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Kwanzaa: Celebrating unity and heritage

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Marking its inception with vibrant colors, lively music and the kinara candle, Kwanzaa’s seven-day celebration highlights African and African American heritage, unity and the principals of Nguzo Saba from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

Each day celebrates one of seven principals: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

RELATED: Principles of Kwanzaa teach youth values, determination

“Kwanzaa is a Black celebration, a holiday with African roots for African American people started by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966,” said Chez Rusununguko, founding member of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers.

The organization celebrates Kwanzaa for its members and the community at large.

Rusununguko was first inspired by African heritage and pride in college.

Kwanzaa: heritage

He had a roommate who was from Zimbabwe who inspired him to change his last name back in the 1970s.

At the time, Zimbabwe was seeking liberation and separation from colonialism that it had endured for many years before.

The last name he chose, Rusununguko – meaning freedom, liberation and release from bondage – originates from the language of Zimbabwe.

His wife, Kimberly Rusununguko, long-standing member of the National Association of Black Social Workers, said their goal is to focus on each principal of the day because Kwanzaa is an opportunity for individuals and families to come together.

“It really is a lifestyle. So, even though it is recognized for seven days, it is absolutely a lifestyle. The goal with the Central Indiana Association of Black Social Workers is to start off this season right. We’re going to wrap this year up by celebrating Kwanzaa,” said Kimberly Rusununguko.

Ahead of the week when Kwanzaa is observed, the group celebrated a cultural gathering honoring the annual holiday Saturday, Dec. 9. Through food, spoken word and presentations, they embraced its timeless essence through the years.

Kimberly and Chez’s daughter, Zimbayi Rusununguko, sat on a panel discussion to talk about the annual holiday.

“My favorite principal has always been Nia. Nia means purpose. That’s critically important to all of us contributing to community to know why we’re here, and what we’re doing, and who we’re doing this for, and how we can do it well,” said Zimbayi Rusununguko.

Kwanzaa: Unity

To celebrate the week of Kwanzaa, families assemble items that represent the seven symbols of the holiday. The arrangement of the visual centerpiece of Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” or first fruits.

The kinara is used to represent concepts of the holiday. It is also a reminder of ancestral origins in one of fifty-five African countries.

The kinara holds seven candles (mishumaa saba) that are lit each day of Kwanzaa.

The other symbols include crops (mazao), which represent the historical roots of African Americans in agriculture and also the reward for collective labor.

The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self-actualization.

Corn (muhindi) signifies children and the hope associated in the younger generation.
Gifts (zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children.

The unity cup (kkimbe cha umoja) is used to pour libations to the ancestors.

On Dec. 31, participants celebrate with a banquet of food (karamu), which includes meals from various African countries, while gifts are also exchanged.

“There’s going to be a free public Kwanzaa on Dec. 26 at the AMP. I believe the time is 2-6:00 p.m. We’ll have dancing, spoken word, vendors, community partners and just a huge celebratory event,” said Kimberly Rusununguko.

“That public event is a huge undertaking, and then what happens is that families then continue the celebration in their home or another designated place, inviting friends, family and loved ones.”

She said people will have an opportunity to learn about Kwanzaa and how to practice it in their own home because the goal is to have it continue to pass down as a legacy to future generations.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON. 

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