What do you know about Kwanzaa? If you’re like most people in the U.S., your knowledge of the week-long holiday is limited. You can remedy that by attending the holiday edition of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center Community Day.
The holiday Community Day — which takes place on Sat., Dec. 14 — will present performances, all-ages activities, and more, focused around the seven core principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
Cydney Nunn, public relations and marketing manager for the Center, says Kwanzaa remains fairly obscure in Pittsburgh and throughout the country.
“I think many people, both Black and white, simply don’t know what Kwanzaa is or why it’s celebrated,” says Nunn. “It’s our job at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center to be that home for storytelling around the African-American experience and art of the African diaspora. We are charged with educating people about this very special tradition in African culture, even if we only reach our little corner of Pittsburgh.”
Created in 1966 by Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, a controversial but highly influential professor, activist, and writer, Kwanzaa offers a chance to showcase and celebrate traditional African clothing, decorations, music, and dance, and includes candle-lighting and gift-giving. While the winter holiday is often overshadowed by Christmas and Hanukkah, it still has a strong following in the U.S. and in countries throughout the world.
While information on the exact number of people who celebrate Kwanzaa is scant, some surveys have claimed that anywhere from 3 to 5 million Americans observe the holiday, with the vast majority of celebrants identifying as Black or African-American.
For the holiday edition of the quarterly-event Community Day, anyone is welcome to come and experience an “immersive Kwanzaa experience.” Nunn says the event will have seven stations set up with different family-friendly activities designed to help people “really interact with the seven principles of Kwanzaa,” as well as live dancers and drummers.
Adding to the focus on Black arts are a holiday artisan market and a gallery tour with the curator Kilolo Luckett and artists Ben Jones and Amani Lewis, who both have current solo shows at the Center. Visitors can view Subjective Nature by Lewis, a Baltimore-based artist whose work features “intimate, mixed-media portraits of friends and family members with the goal of showing their humanity, which often goes unnoticed.” Also on display are the large-scale works of Resurgence – Rise Again by Jones, a well-known New Jersey-based artist, activist, and educator who takes inspiration from the culture and struggles of people throughout the world, especially Cuba. Jones will also host a collage workshop at the event.
In its early years, Kwanzaa was viewed as an alternative to Christmas, but it's evolved into a holiday that's celebrated alongside it. This is reflected at the Community Day event, which will give kids a chance to meet and have their photos taken with an on-site Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Overall, though, Nunn sees the event as a more accessible, enjoyable way to learn about a holiday that often receives little attention during the season.
“This is likely the most fun way to learn about Kwanzaa,” says Nunn.