Ministries and institutions in the central San Joaquin Valley are coming up with creative ways to celebrate the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is a festival observed by many African-Americans from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 as a celebration of their cultural heritage and traditional values. It was founded by Maulana Karenga in 1966.
Gatherings feature the lighting of candles that represent seven African values or principles, which are named in both English and Swahili: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichaguila), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).
• Fresno County Public Library in downtown Fresno got an early start to the holiday. It hosted Kwanzaa workshops for children on Dec. 6. The kids dipped their hands in boxed dirt as they learned the importance of seeds, fruits and the harvest. “Kwanzaa” is Swahili for “first fruits.”
“We had dirt and seeds for the kids, and they planted the seeds,” says Michael Harris, who presented the workshops. He is co-chairman of the California Black Agricultural Working Group, based in Stockton. “You see (the excitement) in their faces.”
• The African American Historical and Cultural Museum in downtown Fresno also is enlisting Harris for a Kwanzaa talk — geared mainly for adults — at 6 p.m. Monday at the museum, 1857 Fulton St.
• The Way Ministries, a ministry of the Way Christian Fellowship in Fresno, is hosting a Kwanzaa/Igbo Festival at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Church pastor Henry Oputa’s African culture is Igbo, the people of southeastern Nigeria.
The festival will end The Way Ministries’ annual December celebration of world cultures. On Dec. 19, the ministry held a festival for Las Posadas, a Catholic Hispanic tradition that commemorates the difficult search by Mary and Joseph for lodging in Bethlehem.
The Kwanzaa/Igbo Festival will celebrate Igbo traditions and Kwanzaa principles. There also will be candle lighting and story telling as well as music and food.
Francine Oputa, who leads The Way Ministries with her husband, Henry Oputa, says Kwanzaa is a celebration of community, family and the principles. She also is director of the Center for Women and Culture at Fresno State, which houses the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute and the Women’s Resource Center.
“One of the reasons Kwanzaa is important these days is the media shows predominantly one part of the African-American community,” she says. “These principles are at the core of the African-American community.
“One thing I appreciate about Kwanzaa, in addition to coming together, is that you honor your ancestors. So it is important to children.”
In 2006, the Oputas’ daughter had to select a “hero” for a project. At the time, she was age 12. She chose a grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Hillery T. Broadous of Pacoima, where he founded Calvary Baptist Church.
“The hero was my father,” Francine Oputa says. “The fact she understood her ancestors at such a young age are the things that are important.”
The Oputas also relate Kwanzaa principles to circumstances in children’s everyday lives, especially the principle of collective work and responsibility (ujima).
The opportunities often come up through The Way Ministries’ North U Street clean-up project, when the Oputas work with kids picking up neighborhood trash or take them on fun activities such as bowling and fishing.
“I tell them we are responsible for one another, to work together to build our community,” she says. “I also tell them, ‘When you see your friend, at 10 years old, smoking a cigarette or doing something that is harmful to the community, you have a responsibility to tell an adult.’ ”
She also enjoys teaching about the principle of self-determination (kujichaguila). The Swahili pronunciation is “koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah.”
“When I talk to children about Kwanzaa, I love saying, ‘kujichaguila,’ ” she says.
That is so she also can see their faces light up.