An afternoon of exploring heritage and culture may not be at the top of children's holiday break plans but that's not all that Kwanzaa has to offer. The city's annual observance of the African heritage celebration on Friday will be filled with dancing, music, storytelling and more.

"This is a long-standing celebration in Bakersfield," said Bakari Sanyu, director of the Sankofa Collective, a statewide nonprofit organization aimed at providing education about African culture. "And it's a great time for the community to come together and enjoy the ambiance of heritage and cultural festivity."

Running from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African heritage that recognizes the nguzo saba, or seven principles of unity, faith, creativity, collective work and responsibility, purpose, self-determination and cooperative economics.

Sanyu, who has helped with the event for the last 25 years, said the emphasis has always been on performance.

"We try to have a lot of activity occurring to keep everyone's attention throughout the program. A lot of them have never seen a stilt walker perform; the African drumming, those things are unique."

A moko jumbie, or stilt walker, performs this year, as well as the the high-energy Oblinyanko Drum & Dance Ensemble, Bakersfield-based Umuokpu Igbo Eze African Dance Group and a musician/storyteller who plays the kora, a West African stringed instrument.

"We’re trying to maintain a consistent roster of performers, and we don’t have an unlimited time frame," Sanyu said of scheduling performers for the four-hour gathering. "We strive for consistency."

Along with the music, dancing and stories, attendees can check out decorations provided by local youth as well as vendors selling cultural merchandise. There will also be a display featuring work from Sanyu's Harambee Art Gallery, which has more than 80 pieces that he has collected across the United States over the course of 40 years.

In addition to taking part in the Kwanzaa celebration, Sanyu features work from the gallery in a separate exhibition. He expects to hold the next public art display in September.

Sanyu said the free gathering draws about 250 people, mostly families from the community.

This year's event is organized by the Sankofa Collective, City of Bakersfield Recreation & Parks, First And Always Melanin, the New Spirit Women’s Group, Jus-N-Tyme Barbershop and Ubuntu Baskets.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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