Although members of the campus community are gearing up to go home for the holidays, that didn’t stop those who celebrate Kwanzaa from gathering a few weeks early in the name of unity.
Ohio State students and faculty as well as members of the Columbus, Ohio, community came together Tuesday evening in the MLK Lounge of the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center for the 2019 PreKwanzaa Celebration, an event that sought to celebrate community and teach attendees about African American culture and history.
This year, Ohio State’s PreKwanzaa Celebration took place for the 34th year and was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and initiated by Richard “Moriba” Kelsey, licensed psychologist and clinical counselor, and the Ohio State Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus. The event featured speeches, musical performances and dances.
Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that honors life and heritage throughout the course of a week, representing Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, according to the official Kwanzaa website.
Kwanzaa traditionally begins Dec. 26 and continues until Jan.1, but Phillip Mayo, program manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said that when the event was created, students wanted to bring the experience of Kwanzaa to campus before leaving for break.
“PreKwanzaa was created because students — when we were on quarters way back then — went home for the holidays,” Mayo said. “The Black Graduate Student Caucus and two professors in black studies decided to put together a program that looked at the seven principles of Kwanzaa and develop them in a way so students could get an experience of what Kwanzaa was like before Kwanzaa actually took place.”
Robert L. Solomon II, assistant vice provost in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the founder of Kwanzaa, Maulana Karenga, had a vision of a social and communal holiday that could bring African Americans together as a community.
“It was this kind of fellowship and connection that was able to sustain us through the middle passage, through antebellum slavery, through Jim Crow and all of American oppression,” Solomon said. “Nguzo Saba should remind us of our intrinsic value, our strengths, our genius, our power in a society that has failed often to acknowledge or appreciate our invaluable contributions.”
The campus celebration kicked off with Tony West, an African-style drummer, community leader and Cultural Icon Award recipient, who brought the crowd together hand-in-hand to teach about the holiday of Kwanzaa, inviting those alongside him to dance, chant and sing as he played African beats.
West’s performance was followed by a series of presentations featuring Larry Williamson Jr., director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Todd Suddeth, executive director of the Student Life Multicultural Center, who both spoke about the holiday’s significance.
A video presentation by Andre Brown, assistant director in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, commemorated prominent African American figures who passed away this past year, including Elijah E. Cummings, a former representative for Maryland in Congress, and Diahann Carroll, an actress who starred in some of the earliest films to feature African American casts.
“These folks are bridge builders, dream makers, cycle breakers and gatekeepers,” Brown said.
The presentation was followed by the lighting of the kinara — the candle-holder that represents each of the seven Nguzo Saba principles. Each of the seven candles were lit by members of student organizations on campus that seek to exemplify the principles.
Elaine Richardson, professor of literacy studies, also captivated the audience with a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”
Teaira Rahmom, a fourth-year in strategic communication, said bringing people together was a positive outcome from the event.
“To see people from different backgrounds with similar stories and racial identities, I think it was great to see us all come together in one room to celebrate being African American or African,” Rahmom said.