The basketball courts in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center were temporarily transformed into an African haven Friday as community members gathered to celebrate Kwanzaa with songs, dances and stories.
"Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture," said Bakari Sanyu, director of The Sankofa Collective, the community group that organized Friday's event. "The purpose is to showcase our heritage and come together and get involved in the community."
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 for African Americans to celebrate their African heritage. The seven-day holiday centers on seven principles, with each day representing one. The principles are unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Friday was the third day of Kwanzaa, which started on Wednesday and will last until Jan. 1.
Though Kwanzaa is often lumped in with December's religious holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah, it has nothing to do with either, Sanyu said. Most people who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to Christmas, he said.
Friday's celebration featured an art display titled Harambee, meaning come together, of pieces donated by members of the community. The art included wooden masks, weaved baskets and intricate statues. The walls of the gym were lines with posters of famous African Americans, maps of Africa and prints of artwork.
"Where can you go to see images of yourself?" Sanyu asked the crowd toward the start of the program in urging it to look at the art and posters.
When no one answered, he pressed them.
"Tell me," he said. "Nowhere. It's upon us to present images of ourselves."
The program featured the Oblinyanko Drum and Dance Ensemble, which performed traditional African dances. One was a warrior dance where three women swooped and swayed with wooden swords as two men drummed and two women played shakers in the background.
Children from the community center's dance club lit the traditional Kwanzaa candles, each one explaining which principle of Kwanzaa they represented. They then performed their own dance.
Camari Patrick, 11, was one of the dance club members. She said she didn't know much about Kwanzaa before Friday, but she was looking forward to learning more.
Her grandmother, Irene Whitmore, on the other hand, said she celebrates Kwanzaa the entire month of December.
"I cook a lot of soul food," Whitmore said of how she celebrates. "Black eyed peas, greens, chitlins. It's our heritage."
Lynell Moore, a teacher, has been telling stories at the Kwanzaa celebration for the last 20 years. On Friday, she told one about a lazy monkey who wouldn't help the other animals build a royal drum. The moral, she said, was the importance of working together as a community.
For her, Kwanzaa is all about community.
"It celebrates unity," Moore said, "and working together as a unit for the betterment of the community."