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A joyous celebration of Kwanzaa

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | DECEMBER 09, 2010 7:10 AM

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Performers dressed in vibrantly colored tunics, skirts, and head pieces danced to the beat of bongo and djembe drums on Wednesday night, as audience members nodded their heads, danced in their chairs, and mingled.

Roughly 150 people gathered to celebrate Kwanzaa in Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., where they danced, clapped, sang, and ate soul food.

“It’s something different,” said UI junior Deepti Sharma as she sat at a table with her friends, UI students Saphia Waheed and Naadia Bhatti. “We’re all Indian, so it’s a change from Indian things.”

Kwanzaa, an African American celebration of family, community, and culture, begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

Sharma said she thought the celebration was full of energy, and she plans to attend similar events in the future.

“I learned that [Kwanzaa] is about unity, and it brings things together,” she said.

The celebration — which more than 20 million people celebrate worldwide — takes its name from “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits of the harvest.” It features seven principles, each with a different meaning to focus on a specific day.

“I want to make it clear that Kwanzaa is not a holiday,” said Katherine Betts, an assistant director of diversity programs. “It is a cultural celebration.”

The event was organized and sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center, Center for Diversity of Enrichment, and the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students. The UI Student Government also sponsored the event.

“The event was so successful last year that the students requested that we bring the stuff back,” Betts said. Approximately 130 people attended last year, she said.

Patrice Bounds, the manager of the Afro-American Cultural Center said she thinks everyone in attendance gained a new experience from the event, whether it was making new friends or discovering a different type of food.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the people socializing and gaining something from the experience of being there,” she said. “It’s a part of our culture. It’s a part of African-American culture.”

Motier Haskins, a UI clinical assistant professor of social work and an organizer of the event, said Kwanzaa is a way for people to move away from consumerism during the holiday season.

“[Attendees] will come away with not only feeling the music in their bones, but they will also leave with a full head and understanding of what Kwanzaa is,” Haskins said.

UI Student Government President John Rigby said UISG decided to sponsor the celebration because it is a goal of the UI to enrich the diversity of the university.

“[The celebration] does enrich the community and provides a greater sense of diversity for the campus,” he said.

Organizers said they were pleased with the outcome of the event.

“I loved it because it had lots of involvement,” said Haskin at the event. “The dancers and performers got the people up. It was a tremendous success.”

Haskins said there were people from many different ethnic, age, and sexual-orientation backgrounds at the event.

“The diversity is unbelievable,” Haskin said.


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