WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange African Heritage Organization held its annual Kwanzaa event on Friday, Dec. 30. Filled with great music, food, vendors and a candle-lighting ceremony, the event was a welcoming introduction for residents to what Kwanzaa means and how it serves a purpose in society today for those who participate in the holiday.
Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African American culture from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, was created by activist Maulana Karenga, based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.
“Celebrating this holiday is a form of freedom fighting,” Councilman H. William Rutherford, a WOAHO member, said at the event. “It is incumbent upon us marginalized citizens to embrace our struggle, to both be and free ourselves.”
A candle lighting was held at this event, signifying both the days and the meaning behind each candle for Kwanzaa. The kinara, or seven-candle candelabrum, is a key symbol of Kwanzaa, with each candle representing a principle of the holiday. One of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, living and walking in your purpose, was a recurring theme throughout the evening.
“We all have a purpose, something to do to lead society to its greatest potential,” Rutherford said. “We are all connected. Being prepared for purpose is not without pain, but walking in purpose inspires others to do the same.
The Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, of Kwanzaa — umoja, or unity; kujichagulia, or self-determination; ujima, or collective work and responsibility; ujamaa, or cooperative economics; nia, or purpose; kuumba, or creativity; and imani, or faith — are a core way for celebrants to live their lives.
“Use this holiday as a reminder of what we have been through and what we have accomplished along the way,” Rutherford said.
WOAHO member Akil Khalfani, a sociology professor, spoke on the importance of a community’s members building upon what they have and acknowledging what makes each member different.
“We must understand our similarities in order to build upon our differences,” Khalfani told the West Orange Chronicle. “Connecting people does not require us to all think and act the same, but it does require us to acknowledge our differences and work together to understand one another and build a society that works for everyone.”
During the event, WOAHO honored Khalfani with an award for his tireless work over the past two decades in advocating and fighting for civil rights in West Orange for the African American community.
“I am beyond speechless,” Khalfani said about receiving the award. “This is a great honor, and I will treat it as such. I will continue to fight for those who do not have the same voice and platform that I do.”
The goal of this ceremony is to inspire others to continue the fight for civil rights in their communities.
“I live by this idea from Harriet Tubman about persistence,” Khalfani said. “We must collectively be persistent in our goal and objective of obtaining civil rights and equity for all people, no matter where they live.”
Photos by Javon Ross