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Students celebrate Kwanzaa with songs, dances

Poetry, music, dancing and lots of proud parents filled the cathedral of St. Pascal Baylon Parish Church in Hollis Sunday as more than 26 young adults performed for their congregation during the annual Kwanzaa celebration.

The church’s youth group, called “Chosen Spirits,” holds the event to honor the cultural spirit of their ancestors and learn about their backgrounds, said Mercedes Torres, co-coordinator of the program for young adults.

“They project a sense of ethnic pride and their own creativity,” said Torres, who along with her husband Freddy has run the youth group for more than eight years. “The performers write their own material and choreograph the dances.”

Kwanzaa, which began Dec. 26 and ended Jan. 1, is a seven-day cultural holiday promoting pan-African tradition and values. It started in 1966 as a way to unite people of African heritage and reconnect people to basic values of African culture.

The 26 students, ranging in age from 12 to 19, did everything from dance down the aisles of the church and perform skits at the pulpit, to sing solo songs and recite original works of poetry. The Torres said the students, who come from St. Albans and Hollis, have been preparing for the ceremony for months.

“It’s stressful to plan, but we have fun doing it every year,” said Bridgete Torres, the couple’s daughter who has been in the church’s youth program for more than five years, starting when she was 12.

Another participant, Ashana Harp, said she likes performing in the youth group because it gives her time to be with her friends and just have a good time.

“It’s a fun place to be — you get to interact with a lot of people your own age,” said Harp, 16, who has also been in the group since she was 12. “It’s a really fun environment.”

Both Harp and Bridgete helped choreograph the dances included in the youth program’s Kwanzaa presentation, and Harp wrote a piece of original poetry.

Mercedes Torres said the youth group is involved in other activities throughout the year besides the Kwanzaa presentation, including a youth mass, a talent show, a toy drive and creating a calendar with recipes compiled from grandparents, parents and other relatives’ cookbooks.

She said a lot of the students are technically required to leave the group once they turn 19 but many come back because they love performing and have such a good feeling about their time spent in the youth program.

“Once they kids go to college, they’re supposed to leave,” she laughed with her husband. “But they seem to always come back.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156

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