East Orange hosts first citywide Kwanzaa Celebration

Photo Courtesy of Muzzemil Mohammed Stevens
East Orange Mayor Green, right, who was out on Central Avenue giving out turkeys, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, was thankful for how Recreation Department Supervisor Stanley Edwards put together the Kwanzaa celebration in East Orange.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange hosted its citywide Kwanzaa Celebration from Wednesday, Dec. 26, through Tuesday, Jan. 1.

One day was set aside during this period to recognize each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: “Umoja” or unity on Wednesday, Dec. 26, in City Hall, featuring Principal Baruti Kafele; “Kujichagulia” or self-determination on Thursday, Dec. 27, in the Fellowship Community Center, featuring Dr. Akil Khalfani of the Essex County College Africana Institute; “Ujima” or collective work and responsibility, on Friday, Dec. 28, at the East Orange Public Library; “Ujamaa” or cooperative economics on Saturday, Dec. 29, at the East Orange YMCA, featuring Karenga K. Arifu; “Nia” or purpose on Sunday, Dec. 30, in Elmwood Presbyterian Church, featuring the Rev. Maria Crompton; “Kuumba” or creativity on Monday, Dec. 31, in the East Orange Senior Center, featuring Dr. S. Aisha Steplight; and “Imani” or faith on Tuesday, Jan. 1, in Council Chambers, featuring Dr. Leonard Jeffries.

The various locations that served as sites for the celebration, with help from the Orange section of the National Council for Negro Women, are collectively known as the “2019 East Orange Kwanzaa Circle.”

“I’m here to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa, celebrate Imani, and I’m here to support the city of East Orange and Dr. Jeffries and bring in the end of this beautiful celebration,” said Khalfani on Tuesday, Jan. 1. “I think that East Orange decided, as a city, to celebrate Kwanzaa for seven days. I haven’t seen this before and I think this is a marvelous opportunity for the city and the community to be exposed to all the elements of Kwanzaa and to do it on a citywide basis. … So I think that’s another piece that made it powerful for us to see it not just in one place but all across the city and the beauty therein.”

Khalfani expressed gratitude for being allowed to bring Kwanzaa to the masses.

“Mayor (Ted) Green has been 100 percent behind it,” he said, adding, “I was here when the king from Nigeria was here. All the different levels of celebration have been powerful and I think that he’s demonstrating that he has a huge commitment to our community and to the transformation of the community, and so I’m appreciative of having the opportunity to support him and to do all the things that we can to continue that.”

Jeffries, who volunteers his services as an educator and organizer, was also thankful to the mayor and city for the opportunity.

“Stephen Biko, a South African who was inspired by Malcolm X, said: ‘The most potent weapon in the hands of oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,’” said Jeffries on Tuesday, Jan. 1. “For those of you who conceived of us coming here to celebrate Kwanzaa in this great community, I want to thank you. For those of us who want to be a part of a continuing process, let the leaders here organize it and then bring the Jeffries and the Khalfanis here.”

Jeffries said he’s traveled all around the world, but East Orange and Newark area will always be home, which is why, although he’s well-paid as a college professor, “I’m here in East Orange because this is my commitment.”

“I’ve been around the world, I’ve studied in Europe, I’ve been to Africa, been to Brazil, but the place most dear to me is Newark, East Orange, Orange; we’ll even take Union and Hillside,” said Jeffries. “We have an example to show how urban communities can be transformed into African communities. They could do it in Detroit, but it’s not happening. They could do it in Baltimore, but it’s not happening. … The model for it happening is here in Newark, East Orange and the greater Newark area. I’m trying to tell you something serious. I’ve traveled around the world and this is where we can show that Africans can control their communities, can put a meaningful education in place, can relate to higher education, can develop people who know how to handle business. So any help that I can do, any programs, any assistance, any advice to the teachers in East Orange or to the principals, I’m there. That’s my mission. That’s my charge.”

Green thanked Jeffries and Khalfani for their words of praise and deferred all credit for the first citywide Kwanzaa Celebration to Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Renee Muhammad, her staff and Recreation Department Supervisor Stanley Edwards. The mayor said promoting black culture is part of his administration’s promise to make East Orange “One City One Community with One Goal and that is Progress.”

“When Stanley presented this project he said: ‘Mayor I want to do Kwanzaa but I want to take it throughout the city.’ When he set his mind to it, we gave him the support and I can tell you, the seven days around this city was dynamic,” Green said Tuesday, Jan. 1.

Edwards thanked Green for supporting his vision of bringing Kwanzaa to East Orange.

“I would also like to thank my director for trusting me and believing in me and giving me this opportunity,” said Edwards on Tuesday, Jan. 1. “I would like to thank my mayor for saying, ‘OK, go ahead and do it.’ I think we did him proud.”