History of Kwanzaa in the Triad

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Dr. Felecia Piggott-Long

Brief History of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was created out of the philosophy of Kawaida, which is a cultural nationalist philosophy that argues that the key challenge in black peoples’ lives is the challenge of culture, and that what Africans must do is to discover and bring forth the best of their culture, both ancient and current, and use it as a foundation to bring into being models of human excellence and possibilities to enrich and expand our lives. It was created in the midst of our struggles of liberation in the 1960’s and was part of our organization US” efforts to create, recreate and circulate African culture as an aid to building community, enriching black consciousness, and reaffirming the value of culture grounding for life and struggle.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by millions of people of African descent through out the world African community. As a cultural holiday, Africans practice it from all religions, traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions on the common ground of their Africanness in all its historical and cultural diversity and unity.
-Maulana Karenga
“Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture”
Kwanzaa In the Triad
Rachel and Duane Jackson of Winston-Salem had friends in Greensboro, NC, Barbara Ferguson Kamara and her husband Musa, a native of Sierra Leone, Africa. They had been celebrating Kwanzaa with a Pan African Organization affiliated with A&T State University each year…The Jackson’s were invited to attend as their guest for 3 years…It was an awesome and wonderful cultural experience, held at the East White Oak Community Center in east Greensboro. The Jackson’s were very active in the programs at the East Winston Branch library…Their main focus was on how to increase the circulation of books and developing a tutorial/after school program for students K-12 grade. They presented the idea of celebrating Kwanzaa to the East Winston Friends of the Library, and the group decided to sponsor the celebration. The branch head and staff embraced the idea of Kwanzaa,  and the principle, Kuumba (Creativity) was always presented there as an annual event….Branch heads and library staff involved in the early years were: Margaret Allen, Dottie Butler, Jane Steele, Barbara Anderson, Pat Wright Stepney, Shirley Hairston Hollaway, Renee Brown Andrews, Tim Jackson.   Sylvia Sprinkle Hamlin, then the head of Children’s Outreach Program, pushed for the celebration to become an official part of the library’s program……… Some other folk involved in implementing and supporting Kwanzaa were people like,  J. C. Simpson- chair of the Friends group, Louise Wilson- ESR director, Mrs. M. Earl F. Benson- tutorial coordinator, Maize Woodruff- library board, Bill Jackson- a poet and rapper, Santana- a photographer, Joseph and Gail Anderson- The Healing Force, Burning Spear- Reggae Band, Amattullah Saleem, and Hashim Salih-Otesha Dancers.

The City-wide Kwanzaa observance at seven different settings came about as a result of the collaboration between the Kemet School of Knowledge of Emmanuel Baptist Church and parties around the city who were willing to participate. Felecia Piggott McMillan went to solicit participants who opened their homes, centers and churches in 1989-1990. Those participants included Ernie and Elaine Pitt, Rev. Dr. John Mendez, Rev. Dr. Carlton Eversley, Rev. Willard Bass, and Dianna Bass, Benjamin Piggott, Felecia Piggott McMillan and family, the W-S Urban League with Dr. D. Smith, the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, The Forsyth Public Library, Grace Presbyterian Church and others. The city-wide concept became a living organism involving more and more organizations and participant’s. The City-Wide Kwanzaa committee was later chaired by Rutherford Moorman, of the East Winston CDC/Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods. Luci Vaughn was the co-chair. The meetings were held at the Winston Lake YMCA. The committee included, among others, Renee Andrews, Emma Shouse, Cheryl Harry, and Dana Suggs, who introduced her own personal designed Kwanzaa pins. The Arts Council provided a grant to committee to produce the night of Kumbaa that was held at the Winston Lake YMCA. Renee Andrews took on the unofficial title of convener of the city-wide committee and pulled everyone together each year. Under her leadership, Triad Cultural Arts, Inc was approached in 2007 to take on the official role of convener of the City-Wide Kwanzaa Committee.

(This history is a living organism and will continue to expand. If you have history that needs to be include please email: charry@triadculturalarts.org    If you lose your history, you lose your power)