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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Unity marks opening of Kwanzaa celebration

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To the beat of a conga and the song of a steel drum, the crowd showed unity by marching in together for the first night of Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration of African heritage and culture.

"We want to come together as a family, our community, so we can strive together to make our community and neighborhood better," said Diane Gordon, the celebration's coordinator, during the opening Kwanzaa ceremony last night in the Wayman D. Palmer Community YMCA.

Each day of Kwanzaa observes one of seven principles and the lighting of an additional candle each day. Yesterday's was "Umoja," which means unity in Swahili.

Ever since the first Toledo Kwanzaa celebration began in the late 1960s, not long after a black studies professor in California created the festival, Mrs. Gordon has been there.

This is the 40th anniversary, according to the souvenir program booklet.

Mrs. Gordon was so excited when she learned of Kwanzaa, she started a celebration in her hometown at a relative's home.

In that era, "there were no books that told us about our history," Mrs. Gordon said before last night's ceremony. "Our history was lost. It really needed to be given to our children and grandchildren, our cultural heritage, that they came from kings and queens."

Kwanzaa has expanded into a community event since then.

Yet each year, new people celebrate. Curiosity brought out Richard Hill, Sr., who was joined by his wife, Tanya, and granddaughters, Kronisha Hill, 13, and Shaelya Hill, 6.

"I always admired [Kwanzaa], but I never took an interest in it," he said.

Then he met Mrs. Gordon by chance and learned more.

The holiday is "about unity and bringing the community together and discipline," Mr. Hill said. "I saw a lot of love in there. I thought it would be good for my family and [me] to learn about our heritage."

And during the welcome song at the start of last night's ceremony in the Palmer Community Y gym, Mr. Hill shook a maraca and Shaelya struck a miniature conga at the front along with other percussionists.

Donald Lynn learned about Kwanzaa seven years ago. Now he's on the celebration committee.

"Kwanzaa for me is cultural, [but] the principles are universal principles," he said.

The Rev. Ray Wightman and his son, Kelantae Wightman, 9, of Hudson, Mich., made their first visit to the Toledo celebration after going to Detroit events during Kwanzaas past. They moved to Lenawee County recently from the Detroit suburb of Trenton, Mich.

It's an African-American cultural celebration, Mr. Wightman noted.

"But since I'm American, we're all in this together," he said.

His son is African-American; he is not.

"I want him to know he has a culture and a heritage that comes from his birth family," said Mr. Wightman, who adopted Kelantae in 2004. "It's good for me, too, to be aware."

Kwanzaa festivities will continue nightly through Wednesday at the Palmer Community Y, 2053 North 14th St. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and each evening's ceremonies will start at 6:55.

The principle for the second night is "Kujichagulia," or self-determination.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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