On Monday night the Black Students’ Union kicked off their week-long Kwanzaa celebration with a volleyball tournament and will conclude on Friday with the Kwanzaa Extravaganza.

“Around 40 to 50 people came,” said BSU Educational and Political Chair Maraea To’omalatai. “It was a very diverse crowd. Most didn’t play but they showed up and showed their support, which was great.”

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African Culture.

“It was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University,” BSU President Marquis Harrison said. “Celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa, which means ‘first fruits of the harvest’ in the African language Kiswahili, is meant to honor African heritage as well as present day life in America.”

Each day a different principle is observed. The principles, called Nguzo Saba, are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Of these principles, Harrison feels that unity has special importance to both him and BSU.

“Unity is the most critical tool for people of African descent in this nation to overcome the structural barriers that have prevented them from reaching their full potential,” he said. “Unity is important for all people and the main purpose for BSU.”

To’omalatai agreed. “It is so important that people get involved in cultural groups even if it’s not their own,” she said. “We can’t unite or understand one another’s concerns if we don’t.”

Kwanzaa includes by many symbolic traditions.

“During each day of Kwanzaa, one of these principles is celebrated through gifts that reinforce the daily principle and through a daily candle lighting of the Kinara,” Harrison said. “The Kinara is a seven-branch candelabra that symbolizes unity, bloodshed and freedom, respectively.”

The holiday is not a replacement for Christmas, however.

Instead, it is a time for families to gather together and celebrate their heritage.

The gifts that are exchanged are meant to reinforce the principles being celebrated.

BSU has always celebrated Kwanzaa with a feast and performances.

However, last year they decided to extend their celebration to a week-long event.

“We decided to expand the program to one week of activities to provide the Rochester campus with a variety of activities that are inclusive to all and more informative about the principles of Kwanzaa,” Harrison said.

Monday night there was a volleyball tournament to celebrate the first principle, unity.

The night began with sophomore Dont Watkins giving a short speech about unity.

“Without unity, it will be virtually impossible to make this world a better place for the future,” Watkins said.

Originally, there were three teams created by the participating students, but to give the tournament a unity spin the teams were all mixed up and everyone ended up playing with different students.

“The volleyball game was an event to represent the value, Umoja,” To’omalatai said. “Everyone came with their own team, but we mixed them up to symbolize unity and teamwork amongst each other and to make things fair.”

On Tuesday, the week’s events continued with a discussion entitled “Does Success Separate Us” to celebrate the principles Kujichagulia – self-determination – and Ujima – collective work – and was lead by a student panel. On Wednesday, the principles Ujamaa – cooperative economics – and Nia – purpose – were celebrated by a trip to the Ronald McDonald house to play with children and watch a Disney movie.

This evening, the BSU is celebrating Kuumba – creativity – and Imani – faith – with an Amateur Night at the Common Ground.

“There will be poets, singers, comedians, etc., whoever wants to show off their talents,” To’omalatai said.

As is tradition, the week will culminate with the Kwanzaa Extravaganza on Friday night in the May Room.

There will be a buffet style dinner and the groups Indulgence, Afro-Expressions and Uplifted Voices will perform.

Family and Community Programmer Delores Radney will also speak about Kwanzaa’s seven principles.

“This year, we are trying to get more exposure for Kwanzaa Week, especially to a more diverse crowd,” To’omalatai said. “The week has been celebrated for years at the university, but the BSU is trying to have the campus more involved.”

Jarrett can be reached at bjarrett@campustimes.org.



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