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Kwanzaa celebrations held in Southeast Queens

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Southeast Queens celebrated Kwanzaa with a daylong celebration at Roy Wilkins Family Center Friday as well as an annual gala and African Marketplace held by the Afrikan Poetry Theatre Sunday.

Kwanzaa, a seven-day cultural holiday promoting pan-African tradition and values started last Thursday and ended Wednesday.

Both the Southern Queens Park Association, which sponsored the event Friday at Roy Wilkins Family Center in St. Albans, and the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, which held its festivities at August Martin High School in Jamaica, have been welcoming community residents to the celebrations for about 24 years, the groups’ leaders said.

“They come out every year,” said John Watusi Branch, president of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, which expected 1,000 people at its event Sunday. “They can’t wait for it. We have a great time.”

William Nelson, president of SQPA, also expected about 1,000 participants by the end of Friday’s celebration. The event at the family center was split into four segments — one each for children, senior citizens, teens and the community — with different entertainment and Kwanzaa activities for each group.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 as a way to unite people of African heritage and promote seven basic values of African culture.

The seven days represent the seven principles, which are called the “Nguzo Saba” in Swahili. The principles are: “Umoja,” or unity; “Kuji-chagulia,” or self-determination; “Ujima,” or collective work and responsibility; “Ujamaa,” or cooperative economics; “Nia,” or purpose; “Kuumba,” or creativity; and “Imani,” or faith. Seven candles are lit as part of the celebration to symbolize the seven principals.

“We try to go every year,” said Delroy Linton, of Rosedale, who brought his children Kyle, 8, and Lauren, 3, to the SQPA celebration. “It’s a good culturally enriching activity for children.”

The children’s portion of the celebration featured St. Albans resident Kathleen Gittens quizzing the audience of 200 kids and parents on their Kwanzaa knowledge and awarding prizes for correct answers. Some of the prizes were donated by the U.S. Marines through their Toys for Tots toy drive program, Nelson said.

“They all love it,” she said. “Some of them know the answers from school, mostly. Some of the parents are learning, too.”

Gittens also penned Kwanzaa lyrics to familiar melodies and taught the children songs, she said.

“This is just a wonderful, free activity for children,” she said. “I hope it gets bigger and bigger every year.”

The SQPA also added a new teen program to its event, after young people involved with the group asked for it, Nelson said.

“It was an outgrowth of our youth program,” he said. “They wanted to put their own stamp on Kwanzaa.”

The teen program was a talent competition, run in cooperation with the Laurelton-based Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council.

The celebration organized by the Afrikan Poetry Theatre was aimed at the community in general, featuring a presentation and explanation of Kwanzaa, entertainment from local traditional dance groups and the traditional lighting of candles.

“The main thing is that they understand the core of Kwanzaa, and that is the seven principles of Kwanzaa,” Watusi Branch said.

The theater’s event also featured vendors as part of an African Marketplace, tying into the principle of cooperative economics, he said.

Both groups also hope to educate area residents about the holiday, which is still gaining followers.

“People are still learning about Kwanzaa,” Nelson said. “It’s growing as people understand it’s a unifying event.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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