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Kwanzaa kicks off 7-day celebration

For average yuletide festivities, this was a different kind of affirmation: “Help us to celebrate our African spirituality.”

At the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday afternoon, about 100 were celebrating the first day of Kwanzaa with drumming, libations and story telling.

And like many a celebration before, participants each brought a piece of fruit to mark the first day of Kwanzaa, which translates from Swahili to mean “first fruits of the harvest.’’

The week-long holiday was born out of the black nationalist movement in the 1960s and nurtured by African-American and Pan Africans, curious about the origins of the Diaspora. During the civil rights era, there became increased attention on black identity and African heritage.

The holiday became a way for African Americans to reconnect with lost history after the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“A lot of people didn’t have the chance to come with their books,” said Chipo Chemoyo of North Miami Beach, who has celebrated Kwanzaa for more than 20 years.

Continuing through Jan. 1, each day will herald one of the seven principals: Umoja (Unity); Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith) when translated from Swahili.

Among the participants at Umoja Wednesday was Geoffrey Philp, who just began celebrating the holiday three years ago. Philp read a story aimed at explaining slavery to children.

Philp credited his decision to mark Kwanzaa to a “deepening awareness of the necessity for African Americans to stick together.”

In its nearly 50-year history, Kwanzaa has spawned two U.S. postal stamps, and some praise its creation for more brown-faced toys in stores.

But by the late 1990s, the holiday, although still revered, became less popular as it competed against Hanukkah and Christmas for attention.

By 2004, only 1.6 percent of the population in the country said they planned to celebrate Kwanzaa, according to a poll from the National Retail Federation.

To that Chemoyo says, “Not everyone celebrates Hanukah; not everyone celebrates Christmas either,” she said. “Kwanzaa is not a competition.”

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