By HAILA SCHULTZ
On Wednesday, November 28, the rotunda was filled with good cheer and delicious food, and clad in red, green and black, the colors of Kwanzaa.
Even though Kwanzaa doesn’t start until December 26, the Black Student Union hosted this event to celebrate and educate about Kwanzaa.
The holiday was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and has its origins in the first harvest celebrations of Africa.
Imari Romeo, a Student Social Justice Coordinator and a member of the Black Student Union, described Kwanzaa as “a reflection of African thought and practice, stressing the importance of the dignity of the human person within community and culture, the well being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and the rich resource and meaning of our people’s culture.”
The focus of the night was unity (umoja in Swahili), the first of the seven principles celebrated in Kwanzaa. The celebration succeeded in creating a sense of unification by functioning at a relaxed tempo, opening with song, allowing time for conversation while eating dinner, presenting a variety of performers and speakers, prompting the audience to reflect on unification and keeping a light-hearted, friendly atmosphere.
Speakers of all ages and backgrounds expressed their sense of unity and experience through poetry, rap, speech, and song.
Unity is “the shared sense of value, passion, and care that drives my efforts to work on issues of multiculturalism and social justice… Unity drives me and gives me a sense of purpose of being accessible towards something bigger than me,” Czarina Ramsay, director of multicultural student services said.
Ramsay said that she witnessed the sense of unity through the conversation at her table during dinner.
“It’s significant moments like this where the unity and the connection we have together is what makes the memories of Puget Sound last a little bit longer,” she said.
A table at the front of the room was traditionally set with the symbols of the holiday. Ears of corn, representing community were placed upon the table along with unity cups, filled with either wine or grape juice.
The candleholder was placed upon a straw mat, which symbolizes foundation because, as Romeo described, “anything that stands has to have something on the bottom first.”
The candle holder held seven candles, which were lit individually by volunteers. The center candle was black and symbolized unity, the grounding force of all of the principles. In order, the remaining principles and candles lit were kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).
After the candles were lit, everyone was asked to write down their ideas of unity, and after small table discussion, a few brave people shared.
One audience member described unity as knowing that “wherever I go, I will be able to connect to others … and be able to talk to them about their experiences.”
Another member of the audience, a little girl who warmed hearts with her response said that to have unity means “being a family and to care about each other, to know that you’re a good person, and to being nice like a family.”
Romeo said that to her unity is “togetherness, working together for a common goal which brings people together with common interests into a community, no matter what you look like, no matter what your background is, you have that thing in common and you fight towards it.”
Visiting professor, Renee Sims closed the event by asking how we, as people, can achieve unity.
“The external challenges to unity are different today, you don’t have segregation, for example, but the obstacles to unity are the same,” she said. “Unity depends on each of us confronting attitudes within ourselves and others that would prevent us from coming together on progressive principles that move society forward.”
At the end of the evening, a drawing was held for a book written by John Carlos, the activist, educator and former Olympic medalist. Carlos will be the keynote speaker at Puget Sound’s 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on January 22 at 7 p.m. in Schneebeck Concert hall.