This year, the Hamilton Hill Arts Center celebrated its 24th annual Kwanzaa Celebration at the New York State Museum in Albany.
It was something that started in terms of the area not really having an event that celebrated the holiday spirit in terms of African customs, said Tony Gaddy, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.
Kwanzaa, a weeklong holiday that incorporates African heritage, is celebrated every year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The holiday began in 1966.
Miki Conn, executive director of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, said she sees Kwanzaa as an opportunity for the community to come together.
`[It’s an opportunity] to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds that connect us as a people and as a world community,` said Conn.
It is an event that can be celebrated within the family or in a communal setting.
`Our celebrations are the communal [type]. What we have done is distilled it over time to an afternoon of workshops and vendors and activities for children, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony,` said Conn of the annual celebration.
The candle-lighting ceremony highlights the seven principals of Kwanzaa. According to Conn, these are principals that are meant to make the world a better place and enrich the lives of those who follow them.
`They introduce and reinforce those seven principals through the candle-lighting ceremony,` said Conn.
At the celebration, seven individuals in the community whose work or lives exemplify those principles were asked to light each candle.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are in Swahili, because it is one of the more common languages spoken on the African continent.
The seven principals are as follows: Umoja, which stands for unity; Kujichagulia, which stands for self determination; Ujima, which stands for collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, which stands for cooperative economics; Nia, which is purpose; Kuumba, which stands for creativity; and Imani, which stands for faith
`This is an important occasion and important for the African-Americans and the larger community to understand about this holiday, particularly as Christmas had become such a commercial event,` said Conn. `Here was one that was firmly grounded in principals and not gifts, so to speak, and so it felt like it would be a good thing to introduce to the community.`
This year’s Kwanzaa celebration occurred on the fifth day of Kwanzaa. Since it fell on the fifth day, the theme was Nia.
While the program was free, participants were asked to bring a piece of fruit to share in the community fruit basket.
`When you say ‘bring a fruit,’ that means so much more than the monetary value of the fruit. A fruit has its own value, and Kwanzaa is based on harvest festivals, so fruit is connected with that,` said Conn.
The fruit was eventually handed out, and each participant received a piece to bring home.
At the event, there was also an African market, where vendors sold goods, foods and services.
Workshops were also offered into the early part of the evening. For children, a workshop called `All About Kwanzaa` was held, which taught children about the holiday, its history and its meaning.
There was a workshop led by Corey Ellis called `Obama and Us,` as well as discussions on economics and a youth roundtable discussion called `Teens in the Digital Information Age.`
`It was an opportunity for people, some of whom knew each other, to sit down and really wrestle with some important issues and important questions. That is sort of strengthening our community. We need to think about things and discuss,` said Conn.
One of the hands-on workshops was about African drumming and dancing with Zorki Nelson and Sue Deane. Children’s craft activities were offered throughout the evening and there was also an African Drum Circle.
Entertainment, which was offered throughout the night, included performances by area artists including Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s own Umoja African Drummers and Dancers, poetry readings, Don Hyman and Betty Harper, Boogie Daddy, Onyx dancers, the Hamilton Hill Steel Drum Band and the Macedonia Men’s Choir.
Before the event, Gaddy expected anywhere between 500 and 800 people to turn out for the evening of festivities.
`The traffic has been tremendous throughout the years,` said Gaddy.