Globally, the celebration of Kwanzaa has been taking place for over 60 years, and people in the Virgin Islands began celebrating it very shortly afterward through the efforts of the African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation, Inc. Even as concerns for limiting mass gatherings due to Covid-19 minimized, it hasn’t stopped the annual celebrators from organizing locally. If anything, it has helped increase the focus of community health and sustainability.
Outdoor and/or virtual events have educated and entertained lower in-person attendance within the Virgin Islands. However, the ability to innovate creatively, having always been a part of Kwanzaa, has not weakened the efforts of local organizers in making sure the strong cultural and historical holiday continues to be used as a practical reminder of who Virgin Islanders are as a collective people and the greatness the diaspora have come from.
“Kwanzaa is that time. Not only acknowledging our ancestors but acknowledging you, acknowledging us, and our right to have this existence. Our right to self-determination, our right to name ourselves, our right to live like this the way we choose. The way of our ancestors, the way of us, the way of the future, the path to freedom by and justice force everyone,” said Akinyemi Blake, opening the Dec. 27, 2020 ceremony at the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market on St. Thomas.
A holiday created by and for African American people of the diaspora, Kwanzaa, takes place annually from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Many have misinterpreted the holiday as a replacement for Christmas and other religious or spiritual celebrations, when in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
With foundations in seven principles that encompass various religions or systems of reverence, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith, the celebration of Kwanzaa helps people remember and have pride in the great history of those who came before and the work still needing to be done. Especially in 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement took on a life of its own due to the global exposure of systemic racism and its derivatives, and as it continued in 2021, 2022, and beyond is always a perfect time to revisit cultural and family-oriented occasions, such as Kwanzaa. Different from some religious or other holidays, it is not only for those of African descent, but any and all who respect the sacrifices and contributions made by people of color.
Within the Virgin Islands, participants will begin preparing to start on Kwanzaa Eve (Christmas Day) by virtually viewing and discussing The Black Candle, the first film made about Kwanzaa. On the first day of Kwanzaa, Sunday, Dec. 26, celebrators on all three islands will hold their annual events, some using online platforms to celebrate the principle of the first day.
On St. Thomas at the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market, various organizations, including We Grow Food, Inc., the African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation Inc., and the Pan African Support Group, will collaborate to put on an event during the monthly market. St. Croix celebrators will be at Grove Place, and the event usually held at the Cruz Bay Park on St. John will be online shown on the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Sigma Theta Omega Chapter’s Facebook | Instagram platforms.
Along with in-person and virtual gatherings, various radio programs hold dialogue centered around the holiday and its purposes, including one on WSTA 1340 AM between 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27.
While there are some small private gatherings planned, a new public event planned this year is a very timely and significant community discussion to be held intentionally on the third day of Kwanzaa, Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 4:30 p.m. The third day’s principle is Ujima, which means collective work and responsibility.
Conceptualized by DaraMonifah® through expressing concerns and initiating dialogue with various members of the community, co-facilitated with Dr. Namonyah Soipan, it will be an empowering spiritual gathering to collaboratively create a checklist of ideas, resources, and information for the eventual transition of yourself or a loved one.
Held at the Center for Sacred Dialogue and virtually through Zoom, attendees can expect the sharing of metaphysical text on the journey of death and dying. They will also enjoy prayer, meditation, chanting, dialogue, and dancing and share personal testimonies and stories. RSVP through the Zoom registration form is required for in-person and virtual attendance.
In 1966, Professor Maulana Karenga and the organization US created and made popular the Pan African holiday in the United States as a “first fruits” festival honoring the agricultural harvest similar to what is done in various parts of Africa. The KiSwahili language was selected to include authentic African language and other elements from African and African-American culture included to further emphasize the revival of previously watered-down traditions due to the disconnect of enslaved Africans from their mother culture and tongues.
The word Kwanzaa itself stems from the phrase Matunda ya Kwanza, or the first fruits of the harvest. Along with the practice of the language used in the daily greeting of Habari Gani (What’s the News) are the repeated strategic use of the number seven in specific symbolism and the red, black, and green colors made popular by the Marcus Garvey movement along with Rastafarians.
These are just some of the practices central to the holiday week activities, along with the intentional reverence of those who have come before, festivals, food, music, drumming, dancing, and fellowship that can be experienced at the events. Specific calls to action regarding community challenges and the offering of solutions are also commonly expressed and cultivated during the times of gathering.
More than just a holiday for community upliftment, education, and entertainment, Kwanzaa is used as a time for strategic community organizing and intentional socializing for the purpose of reviving the cultural spirit of a people needing constant self-reassurance and reminders of their greatness both historically and in the present.
If possible, some events will be streamed live to the Conch Shell Media Facebook page. To facilitate virtual attendance of some activities, basic Zoom training is available by request.
Contact DaraMonifah® Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 340-643-6863.
For more information, updates, and schedules of local Kwanzaa events, interested persons can visit www.Kwanzaa365.org/kalendar or text K or VIKWANZAA to DaraMonifah at +1 678-506-7779 and follow the prompts.