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Kwanzaa Celebration

On Saturday, December 27th, we attended a Kwanzaa Celebration at the East Cleveland Public Library that was supported by the library, itself, the Friends of the East Cleveland Public Library and the Association of African American Cultural Gardens. The program was conducted by Sister Doris Willis who read a letter from the Greater Cleveland Kwanzaa Alliance that said, in part, that "Kwanzaa was developed as a way to help African-Americans develop a greater sense of identity, purpose, and direction...It is much more than a yearly ritual. It is in fact, a way of life, a workable formula for social, cultural and economic progress. This Kwanzaa, let us come together as family and rejoice in the arms of our community. May our lives be replenished by our friends and bring us prosperity and harmony in the new year."

Sister Doris said that today is dedicated to our children and how important it is that they learn and practice the seven principles of Kwanzaa so that they can lead a full, positive, and productive life. These principles were created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded Kwanzaa in 1965, and they are Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

Kwanzaa lasts from December 26th through the 31st and each day a different principle is placed in focus. On December 26th, the first day, it was Unity, and on December 27th, the second day, it was Self-Determination. Appropriately, one of the speakers on this day was Ms. Jan Ridgeway who is, in her own words, the "volunteer executive director" of the Garden Valley Neighborhood Center which she re-opened four-and-a-half years ago. Today its food bank distributes bags of food to 10,200 people a month and offers tutoring and instructional classes. The young people are taught that they can accomplish whatever they want if they persevere. After achieving success, it is hoped that they will remain in the area and make it into the kind of neighborhood where they would want to live. Ms. Ridgeway emphasized that they Kwanzaa principles mean that "we must learn to give back to us."

Saturday's ceremony included two exuberant and inspirational presentations from the Bethune Girls, best described by their instructor, Ms. Honey Bell-Bey, as a "poetic theater group utilizing drama and movement" and a drum performance by Voices from the Valley lead by Sister Yvetta who encouraged us all to stand up, get with the rhythm and clap which we did. Sister Kwanzza Brewer conducted a libation ceremony; Brother Oliver Nathan spoke about self-determination; and Dr. Mary Ann Harris did the closing in which the seven principles of Kwanzaa were recalled once again.

Afterwards we talked to Brother Lynwood Billingsley who said that Ms. Margaret W. Wong "does very great service" and to Ms. Ridgeway who told us how Ms. Wong took part in a panel at the Cleveland Public Library dealing with immigration about six or seven years ago that she helped to organize.

Ms. Ridgeway admires Ms. Wong a lot sometimes refers clients to us. She also talked a little more about the work that the Garden Valley Neighborhood Center does and said that it represents "community engagement at its best" and that being involved in it has been "quite an adventure" for her. Ms. Ridgeway really liked it that young people played a prominent role in today's celebration because she believes that it is important that they be exposed to a different way of living so that "their world can be expanded." Along these lines, at the Center, different cultural groups are often studied.

Before we left, we walked over to Brother Oliver Nathan and asked if we could copy a quote from Dr. Maulana Karenga about self-determination that Brother Oliver read during his presentation. This quote says that self-determination "commits us to mutual respect for all persons as possessors of dignity and divinity entitled to equal rights and treatment to the shared goods of the world and for each people and culture as a unique and equally valid and valuable way of being human in the world."

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