Kinston organization bringing healthy living to community’s first-ever Kwanza celebration

Holidays

KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – An Eastern North Carolina group is planning its first-ever Kwanza event.  

Fresh Foods Interest Group features a number of volunteers who are committed to bringing access to fresh food and produce to Kinston. The group includes former residents of Southeast Kinston, current residents, Black farmers and landowners, representatives from local non-profit organizations and churches.  

The event will be on December 31 at Rochelle Middle School Gymnasium in Kinston, starting at noon. Click here for more information.

Kimberly McNair, who is the communications director for FFIG, said they are invested in issues of food justice and preserving Black agricultural heritage. She said they hope to achieve many things with this event.

“We want Black farmers and vendors in the area to get exposure,” McNair said. “This event will help us connect with the community, find out what they have in the area, and work with them on how to make that a reality.”  

Over the past two years, McNair said FFIG has had conversations about building a community garden and subscription program.  

“We will have speakers representing local Black businesses, dancers, and live music,” McNair said about the Kwanza event. “Also, we will have storytelling and vendors selling items ranging from arts and crafts, clothing, and makeup.”

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Kwanzaa is an annual celebration for those a part of the African Diaspora, with celebrations that span over seven days which represents the seven principles or what its founder called “Nguzu Saba.”

The Nguzu Saba principles are:

1.) Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

2.) Kujichagulia (Self-determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

3.) Ujima (Collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

4.) Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

5.) Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

6.) Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

7.) Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

In a conversation with Dr. Kimberly McNair, who is the lead organizer of the non-profit Fresh Foods Interest Group she explains the general meaning of Kwanzaa for African Americans which is a time of learning, family, and celebration.

Her passion for the preservation of local African American history and culture was birthed in her early years listening to the stories of her family and parents, and her appreciation for Black agricultural heritage was nurtured through her relationship with her grandparents. 

Kimberly went on to study at NC State University where she received a bachelor’s in Africana Studies and another bachelors in Chemistry. She pursued her intellectual endeavors at the University of California Los Angeles where she received her Master’s in Afro-American Studies, and later at the University of California Berkeley where she received her Ph.D. in African American Studies & African Diaspora Studies.

What does Kwanzaa mean to African Americans in Kinston?

“Kwanzaa is about community, unity, and self-reliance. It’s a celebration of Black life and culture. It’s a time for the broader Black community to fellowship before the new year. 

For the broader significance of Kwanzaa, it’s important to know that it is a celebration of African diasporic heritage and cultural traditions all around the world. It’s observed yearly from December 26th to January 1st. We’ve chosen to make our Kwanzaa celebration highlight our unique local Black agricultural heritage and foodways. This is not the first Kwanzaa celebration in Kinston, NC but it is “our”/FFIG’s first Kwanzaa event. December 31st is significant as Kwanzaa usually culminates in a communal feast known as a “Karamu” on the 6th day.”


2.) What is the true meaning of Kwanzaa and in your opinion why don’t all African Americans traditionally celebrate this cultural holiday?

“It takes time to build awareness and enthusiasm for cultural holidays, no matter the ethnicity. A good comparison would be the Juneteenth holiday. Juneteenth celebrations began 1 year after the final enslaved Black people were freed in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. From there, it was mostly a celebration observed in Texas and the golf-coast region of the united states. But after 155 years of observance, it has now become a federally recognized cultural holiday. Negro History Week (started in 1926), which became Black History Month (in 1969), has only been observed nationally for 52 years.

Before that, it was observed by those who receive the Crisis magazine or those who ​attended college. This left out a large portion of the Black population who had yet to hear about the cultural observance until it became federally recognized in 1976. 

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga (a college professor) in 1966. Thereafter it was incorporated into cultural celebrations of many Black organizations prominent in the civil rights and Black liberation movement and college campuses nationally. Many people first learned about Kwanzaa in college. However, after 55 years Kwanzaa has seen much commercial success and promotion in different spaces included churches and community centers. The beautiful thing that units all Black people around these cultural holidays – Juneteenth, Black History Month, and Kwanzaa is that the focus is on Black life and cultural heritage and not a religious or political affiliation. Kwanzaa is focused on the African diaspora and encompasses all African ethnicities and Black nationalities ​worldwide. It’s all about unity and community.”

For African Americans who didn’t grow up celebrating Kwanzaa how can they begin to embrace it? “Kwanzaa celebrates ​African heritage, unity, and culture as well as Pan-African principles (i.e. common history and linked destiny of Black people all around the world). If African American believes in those things, then they’ve already begun to practice the Principles of Nguzu Saba and can embrace Kwanzaa today. Reaching out to local elders (who may be practitioners of African traditions such as storytelling, dance, and drumming) or local educators would be a great start. However, in the end, a person can start from where they are. You don’t need any special education or credentials to embrace and practice Kwanzaa. And there’s information widely available that can help them incorporate Kwanzaa into their holiday traditions.” 


What are the 7 principles and what do they mean?
“Here are links that will tell you all about the Principles of Nguzu Saba: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture
Dr. Mualan Karenga (the creator of Kwanzaa)

Can anyone celebrate Kwanzaa who isn’t of African descent?

“People who are not of African descent can definitely attend Kwanzaa celebrations open to the broader community. In fact, there are members of the FFIG who are not Black. However, we all understand the message of Kwanzaa. Black cultural heritage – and the contributions Black people have made to the United States and world culture – is at the center of what the holiday is about. Kwanzaa is also widely observed as a family tradition and practiced in households. This makes for a more intimate tradition shared among family members.”

McNair also adds that those who attend the event in Kinston will learn about the history of Kwanzaa as a cultural celebration and its relevance to Black agricultural heritage. They will also learn about small Black-owned businesses in the area and how they support them. 

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