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UMaine Celebrating African-American Holiday Kwanzaa Dec. 3

Contact: Shezwae Fleming (207) 581-1425; Gretchen Faulkner (207-581-1901;
George Manlove (207) 581-3756

ORONO — The UMaine community will celebrate the African-American holiday Kwanzaa on Dec. 3 — a celebration of family, friendship, community and culture marked by a seven-day observance of seven principles of life.

The public is invited to ceremonies being held from 10-11:15 a.m. at the Hudson Museum in the Maine Center for the Arts on the Orono campus.

The celebration of Kwanzaa, the Swahili term for “first fruits of the harvest,” includes gift-giving, music, a candle-lighting ritual, a discussion of the seven life principles of Kwanzaa and a feast.

The Kwanzaa observance at UMaine will condense the components of the seven-day holiday into a program of about an hour and a half, according to Shezwae Fleming, director of multicultural programs and the ALANA Center at UMaine and coordinator of the celebration. Instead of a traditional banquet, light refreshments and a sampling of African cuisine, courtesy of the UMaine African Student Association, will be available. The event is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students and the Hudson Museum.

“It’s fun. It’s educational. I want to make it as engaging as possible,” Fleming says. “I’m hoping to have a diverse group of students participate. I think it will articulate the universal nature of Kwanzaa.”

Established in 1966 in California by Maulana Karenga, a professor and now chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach, Kwanzaa is intended to preserve, revitalize and promote African-American culture. It traditionally is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, but is being observed at UMaine on Dec. 3 because of the Holiday break.

Though Karenga wanted to create a way for African-Americans to better understand their ancestral roots, Fleming explains the holiday transcends race and ethnicity. Though spiritual, it is not a religious holiday.

“Civic and community responsibility, economic development, family values all are a part of it,” she says. Celebrated by 18 million people throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia, Kwanzaa highlights wholesome values for any culture, she says.

The signature centerpiece of Kwanzaa is a kinara, a candle holder with one black candle with three red and three green candles on each side. The red candles represent past struggles and the green represent a fruitful future. On each night of Kwanzaa one of seven candles is lit and one of the holiday’s core principles (Nguzo Saba) are discussed.

The seven principles are Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamma (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa was first introduced to UMaine in 1999 by Associate Dean of Students Angel Loredo, who says he organized the first Kwanzaa “because it is a very holistic, healthy and spiritual experience to go through Kwanzaa. It provides students an opportunity to look at other cultures and to see how it fits into their own lives,” he says.

Loredo and Fleming both say they have noticed “a disconnect” between many young people today and their ancestry. Even within the black community, Fleming adds, many African-Americans born and raised in the United States know little about their African roots.

Fleming hopes people of all color and nationality will come to the Hudson Museum and learn about Kwanzaa. A university like UMaine, with such a culturally diverse population, is a logical place for students to learn about multicultural holidays, Loredo observes.

Hosting Kwanzaa also is another way that Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner can offer cultural programs to area residents.

“We’re hoping the public and school groups will come and learn about Kwanzaa,” she says. The Hudson Museum celebrates many cultural traditions from around the world, she says. “We host Kwanzaa as the museum has extensive African collections. In spring 2005, a new exhibition of this material will open on the museum’s third level.”

More information is available by calling Fleming at (207) 581-1425 or Faulkner at (207) 581-1901. The official Kwanzaa web site is at: www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org.

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