Kwanzaa celebration goes virtual, finds rhythm in values

On every Dec. 26 since 1987, the Wisconsin Black Historical Society opens its doors for the opening of Kwanzaa.

Executive Director Clayborn Benson said the annual event has grown substantially since the society began.

"Every year, in that tenure, we have celebrated Kwanzaa — from seven people to 700 people," Benson said.

This year, that crowd will gather virtually. But still, Benson and the society recognize the importance of gathering to celebrate the holiday.

Wisconsin Black Historical Society Executive Director Clayborn Benson

Benson leads the event. Its drums and songs, powerful readings and dancing all help those gathered find their rhythm to celebrate Kwanzaa.

"It is to affirm our African roots. It allows us to remember from where we came, which is Africa, so it's very important. Often, our kids forget that," Benson said.

Kwanzaa celebration at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society

Dr. Maulana Karenga founded Kwanzaa back in 1966, giving African Americans a chance to recognize their own history and culture.

At the same time, it calls to pause for reflection and important conversation on its seven principles, says Akua Bangura of Milwaukee.

"It is a way to gauge in terms of our growth and progress in our lives, in our family's lives, in the community, and it's a connection to our culture," Bangura said.

Akua Bangura

Those principles include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. During celebrations, they're each represented by a candle — but no flame burns brighter than the other.

"Umoja means unity, sticking together, working together. Kujichagulia, self-determination. How do I determine what it is I was supposed to do in life," Benson said.

Kwanzaa celebration at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society

"Everybody can't do the same thing, but they can have the same goal in terms of having a quality of life in the African community," Bangura said.

This year, the celebration goes virtual as Benson maintains his role as host, sharing messages between recorded performances and speeches.

Kwanzaa celebration at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society

It's not their typical celebration, but the society is relying on those seven values in looking forward to a better 2021.

"With faith, anything is possible. But we have to have faith," Bangura said.

Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven nights starting on Dec. 26 and culminating in a large feast on Jan. 1.

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