Kwanzaa Begins in San Francisco, Offers Hope to Shrinking African American Community
The first day of Kwanzaa kicked off at City Hall in San Francisco on December 26th. Free events hosted by The Village Project ran through January 1st. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa honors a core principle of African American culture. Those principles are especially salient today.
Jody Strait: Dancers preformed to a procession of drums and chants in the grand rotunda of San Francisco City Hall to celebrate the first day of Kwanzaa. Scores of people in the audience were ecstatic as the young women moved swiftly to the beat.
The seven day festival of Kwanzaa celebrates African American people, their culture and their community. Each day honors a core principle. The first is unity. Adriana Williams is Executive Director of The Village Project. She’s organized the annual city-wide Kwanzaa event for 13 years.
Adriana Williams: More than ever we need to honor these principles. Unity — we need to unite, not divide the way the country is right now. And the whole essence of Kwanzaa is community, family, and honoring our ancestors, and the people, our history, our culture.
Jody Strait: Williams said when San Francisco’s Kwanzaa celebration first started, there were seven events — one for each day and principle, including unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
This year, Williams says, 17 events in nine neighborhoods will be held throughout the week. Each is free and followed by a feast. Dr. Maestro Curtis delivered the keynote for the day of unity, or umoja in Swahili.
Maestro Curtis: Kwanzaa was created out of a dying, crying need of a displaced people lost in the wilderness. We must umoja-fy, identify, reconnect to the tradition of our greatness.
That is why we celebrate this. We come from great thinkers, great scientists, great inventors, people of high moral substance. Kwanzaa was created to remind us that very thing, remind us that we’re not slaves. Harambee.*
Maestro Curtis: Umoja!
Jody Strait: Practitioners say Kwanzaa is not a replacement of Christmas, but a complementary holiday that doesn’t cost people anything after the expensive holiday season.
Now celebrated by over 30 million people worldwide, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles in 1966, according to The Village Project.
The festival raises strong feelings of both pride and concern in San Francisco, where gentrification has pushed out many in the African American community. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in June that the African American population in the city had shrunk to 5.4 percent.
Yet significant gains have given some hope. The election of the city’s first black female mayor, London Breed, this year is one of them. Breed was praised in song by a group of young singers — The C Notes — who performed at the event.
But with less than six months having passed since Breed’s inauguration, whether or not she’ll be able to address gentrification in San Francisco remains to be seen.
The C Notes: (singing) I shall wear a crown… when it’s all over.
Jody Strait: For KPFA Radio at San Francisco City Hall, this is Jody Strait
*Harambee translates to “pulling or working together”in Swahili.
This story originally aired on KPFA Radio.