GARY | The lighting of the black candle of Umoja, or unity, to celebrate the first day of Kwanzaa symbolized the connection of the generations and honored African heritage Monday at the city's main library.
Kwanzaa, a weeklong African-American and Pan-African celebration that ends Sunday, originated with Maulana Karenga, of California State University, and first was celebrated in 1966-67.
More than 50 community members gathered Monday in the Gary library's boardroom to celebrate Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. The first observation of Kwanzaa at the library also served to educate the community about this holiday, which celebrates the dignity of the human being in community and culture, the well-being of the family and community, and the people's kinship with the environment, said Brother Kwabena, who led the ceremonies.
He began the festivities with the libation, which is "based on African traditions that the spirit lives on." Pouring water on a bowl of fresh vegetables and a plant, Kwabena led those gathered in a salute to ancestors who did good deeds.
Angela Champ read one of her poems, "Honor Is the Seed of Access," as a call to honor the sacrifices of elders. Lord Cashus D, of the Zulu Nation, warned those in attendance that they need to protect and guide the next generation, whom he called "indigo children."
"We have to stand guard over these children who are plagued by the world of technology," he said. "We're in a time of spiritual preparedness. God is in you."
Seven guest speakers talked about the principles on which Kwanzaa is based.
Vanessa Allen, of the Urban League, spoke about Umoja as "a collaboration or coming together of the community.
"We are moving into 2012. Let us pray we are moving with unity and reflection," Allen said. "We all need to ask ourselves these questions: 'Who am I?', 'Am I really who I say I am?' and 'Am I all that I ought to be?' "
Ira Abdul-Malik, of the Gary Islamic Society, explained Kujichagulia, or self-determination, as "the inherent right in every human being. We are free to choose. ... Our creator gave us a brain based on choices. Our mission is to make the right choices."
Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, means working together for a common goal and building a community together, said Bennett Wjodinizeh, who came to Gary 35 years ago from Nigeria.
Jihad Muhammad told the audience that for Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, to work, everyone needs to pool their intellectual and financial resources to "create an economic revival in Gary."
Nia, or purpose, helps "restore our people to their traditional greatness" as "heirs and custodians of a great civilization," said Karen Pulliam, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Gary Mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson spoke about Kuumba, or creativity.
"We have a multiple of examples of what creativity looks like," she said. "Are we using the gifts our creator gave us to be our most creative selves?"
Imani, or faith, "is how we get things done," said Brandon McVens. "You are the solution. Every one of you is a hero."