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Kanisa House continues its 35th annual Kwanzaa observation


ELYRIA — Christmas may be over at midnight Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of the holiday has ended.

In fact, it is beginning anew for those who celebrate Kwanzaa.

The seven days of Kwanzaa begin Thursday and run through Jan. 1, culminating in a community potluck dinner.

While Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, started in the late 1960s by Dr. Maulana Karenga, in part to keep African-American youths off of the streets during the holiday break, according to the Rev. Gerald Evans, pastor of the First Community Interfaith Institute of Ohio.

This year marks the 35th annual celebration at FCII. A major element of the ceremonies includes upholding the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, of Kwanzaa: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“Karenga wanted to encourage African-American people to be constructive and productive in their community,” Evans said. “That was the 1960s, when African-Americans didn’t have money, power, prestige or social status.”

Evans attributes the holiday’s staying power to the fact that it went mainstream, being discussed and celebrated in schools, institutions and government, here and overseas.

Each night of the celebration focuses on one of the seven principles.

Each night, one of seven candles are lit — three red, representing the blood of the people; three green, representing prosperity and coming together; and one black, representing the people.

The celebration includes speakers, songs, poems and dancing.

“We try not to direct what people want to do,” Evans said. “It has to come from their hearts and souls. We want some creativity. We have an emcee who will guide us through the ceremonies, which are all very respectful. The emcee will ask the oldest person in the room if we can have Kwanzaa that night, and they will say yes.”

And the ceremony proceeds.

“Kwanzaa doesn’t have any negativity; no drama, no blaming anyone for anything,” Evans said. “It’s all inspirations. During Kwanzaa, we are in the now tense, not in past tense. We focus on making a new beginning.”

On the last night of Kwanzaa, children are given homemade gifts they can use in their everyday lives. Gifts can be anything – knitted socks, a framed poem, a piece of artwork.

“There is no limit on what they can do,” Evans said. “One person gave a baby mobile with the symbols of Kwanzaa. It was really nice. The only requirement is that it is something they can use.

“This is a non-commercial holiday, which is rare in our day and age.”

To forgive, to remember where you came from, to maintain your focus and to make people your friend — those are the most important things anyone can do in their community, according to Evans. Kwanzaa serves as a reminder.

“Most people forget where they came from,” Evans said. “They don’t help each other. They don’t give back. Someone has to give back.

“As a society, we forget people in nursing homes. Their families never go to see them. I work with the homeless. They have family, too.

“Some people don’t even care if their family member is homeless. What we do in America is recycle bottles, cans, go green, and we dispose of human beings,” he said.

Kwanzaa helps people be more human, more kind, Evans said.

“It gives people dignity and love, regardless of what they have done in the past,” he said.

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or

Kwanzaa activities

WHAT: Seven Days of Kwanzaa

WHEN: 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday to Dec. 31

WHERE: Kanisa House, 142 Cleveland St., Elyria

COST: Free (donations accepted)

WHAT: Karamu Dinner

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 1

WHERE: Gathering Hope House, 1173 North Ridge Road, Lorain

COST: Potluck dinner, bring a covered dish

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