ELYRIA — At First Community Interfaith Institute of Ohio, Gerald Evans greeted a crowd of more than a dozen with “Habari Gani?” to which they responded with “Umoja! Unity.”
The first phrase is a greeting in Swahili that means “What’s the news?” and umjoa is the first day of Kwanzaa, meaning “unity.” The FCIIO held its 39th Kwanzaa celebration for a small, intimate crowd 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Martha Evans-Harris, master of ceremonies for the first night of Kwanzaa, said the holiday means so much to her. In her more than 20 years of being involved in the institute’s event, Evans-Harris said it gives her and other people an opportunity to grow.
“It’s a time to reflect on the year and see what you can work on for yourself, your family and your community for the year to come,” she said.
The event had an introduction to of the purpose of the event and lighting the black candle on the kinara, a seven-light candelabra, for the first night. Each candle represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. There are three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right and a black candle in the center, corresponding with the Pan-African colors.
Charles Johnson and his wife, Andreia Lisboa Sousa Johnson, from Beachwood, said they recently moved to Northeast Ohio and decided to come to the event.
“This is a path to follow, when you can unite people from different churches and pray and celebrate and follow the principles, I think this is interesting and important nowadays,” Andreia said.
They also had readings of folktales, songs and a lecture following the theme of unity and togetherness.
The institute has been celebrating the holiday since its founding in 1978. The institute’s work includes helping homeless people and providing job training. It also teaches anger management to people sent there by the courts.
Today’s event will be “Kujichagulia,” or self-determination. All Kwanzaa activities are 7 p.m. at Kanisa House, 142 Cleveland St. in Elyria. For more information, call Dana Burns at (440) 366-3244.