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Seven principles – Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith) – celebrated over a period of seven days, with each day and principle equally significant.

These principles are the foundation of Kwanzaa, an African American culture- and community-focused holiday celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

As Adrian Williams, executive director of the nonprofit The Village Project, S.F., says, “If we, as a community, would recognize and implement these principles throughout the year, then it would unite us … and help us to survive and have a feeling of community and culture.”

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This Kwanzaa, local events such as The Village Project’s Kwanzaa S.F. will honor the Nguzo Saba (the seven principles) via libation ceremonies, music, poetry readings, presentations about African culture and traditional meals. The focus this year, perhaps more than ever because of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, is on bringing people together and community strengthening.

While most of the scheduled Kwanzaa events are online rather than in person because of COVID, Williams anticipates many people participating virtually with friends and family. 

As she shares about Kwanzaa S.F., “Last year, the first year we streamed, we had 18,000 engagements and/or views. So I don’t know why I didn’t think to stream prior to this COVID situation because we are [now] reaching more people during Kwanzaa. I can see the results with the number of people who are coming on board and who are holding their own Kwanzaa celebrations.”

For Williams, partnerships with local organizations and artists is another way to unite with the community to celebrate Kwanzaa. 

“We have a slew of community partners who come together, and they help plan the programs, thereby [providing] the diversity in all of the programs,” says Williams.

Kwanzaa SF will feature a variety of blues and zydeco musicians. These music performances will be streamed online. (Photo courtesy The Village Project, S.F.)

One such partnership is with San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora for a live poetry reading at Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse on the first day of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Sunday). The event features poets Daniel B. Summerhill, Tiffany Banks, James Cagney and Tyanna Braswell.

Other events during the seven-day Kwanzaa S.F. celebration include dance performances and music performances such as from Harpist in the Hood (Sunday), Soul Mechanix (Dec. 28), Alabama Mike (Dec. 29) and — Williams’ favorite — Tia Carroll and her blues band, who will perform on the final day of Kwanzaa (Imani, on Jan. 1).

And while the entertainment varies per Kwanzaa principle and day of the event, the approach to honoring African culture and tradition remains the same.

Says Williams, “After we complete the ceremonial part of pouring libations and the Kwanzaa education piece, then we have cultural enrichment. And, after each day, after each principle, we light the candle and we do harambee, which is bringing us all closer together.”

Harambee is a Swahili word meaning “Let’s pull together.” During Kwanzaa, an elder calls out “harambee,” and in response, everyone chants the word seven times.

Clinton Sockwell II performs “The Kwanzaa Song” explaining the seven principles.

In addition to uniting people during a rather tumultuous time, The Village Project’s Kwanzaa S.F. and the other Kwanzaa events aim to draw more attention to Kwanzaa itself as an important cultural celebration.

Reflecting on her 15-year tenure at The Village Project and her overseeing of Kwanzaa S.F., Williams says she believes that people are now more aware of the holiday and its significance. 

Williams explains, “One of my things — as far as unity and faith are concerned — is educating the community about our culture and then learning how to appreciate other people’s cultures. And that’s how I think we’re going to solve this whole diversity thing — [by] bringing us all together, through exposure.”

While Williams is optimistic about the increased awareness and celebration of Kwanzaa, she is particularly happy that her grandchild is familiar with the holiday she has been dedicated to educating others about throughout the years. 

“I have a little 4-year-old grandbaby who says, ‘Let’s do Kwanzaa!’, and that makes me feel good.” 

Bay Area Kwanzaa events

This Kwanzaa, certain events taking place in Bay Area cities are viewable online, such as this Oakland-based presentation scheduled for Dec. 31. (Photo courtesy African American Museum and Library at Oakland)

Sunday-Jan. 1: All of The Village Project’s Kwanzaa S.F. events are free and open to the public and will be streamed online. More information can be found at https://www.thevillageprojectsf.org/vp/field-trips-events/senior-moment/.

Sunday: In partnership with The Village Project, S.F., the Museum of the African Diaspora’s 16th Annual San Francisco Kwanzaa Celebration: A Live Poetry Reading will take place from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse in San Francisco. This live, outdoor poetry is free and open to the public. It will also be recorded and rebroadcast on Jan. 1 as part of The Village Project’s virtual programming for the last day of Kwanzaa (Imani).

Sunday: Kwanzaa Sunday Supper will feature a menu that highlights traditional ingredients used to celebrate Kwanzaa. Sunday Supper will be offered from 3-6 p.m. at Soul Slice, 5849 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. Each ticket is $25, plus tax and fees. To purchase a ticket and make a reservation, go to https://bit.ly/3mqMOoL.

Sunday: St. Columba’s Annual Kwanzaa Celebration 2021 will take place from 6-8 p.m. at St. Columba Catholic Church, 6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. 

Dec. 28: Alive & Free’s Kwanzaa Celebration will take place via Zoom from 6-8 p.m. To register, go to https://bit.ly/3pmmXAr.

Dec. 31: The African American Museum and Library at Oakland’s “Furaha ya Kwanzaa” (Joy of the First Fruits) will take place online from 2-3 p.m. It focuses on the sixth-day principle of Kwanzaa – Kuumba (creativity) – and features chief curator Bamidele Agbasegbe-Demerson, whose presentation will detail the cultural memories of Africa that resonate in Black American folklore and visual arts. To register for this free event, go to https://bit.ly/3pnl8TG.