On Thursday, Roosevelt Middle School staff, students and parents enjoyed the school’s first-ever Kwanzaa event, a few days in advance of the holiday’s start, which will run from Dec.26 through Jan.1.
Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday celebrating seven core personal and community values, was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. Its name is derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits.”
Lisa Hopkins, founder of the Kama-Sahlor youth theater group, teamed with up with drummer and choreographer Baba Bogan-El to put on Thursday’s performance in the auditorium at Roosevelt. The show starred seventh and eighth graders.
Germantown playwright and performer Karen Smith, along with Bogan-El and Bro Zumbi, provided some stirring live drums for the show.
Roosevelt teacher Chantelle Smith served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, attended by students and a handful of parents. Kids got a brief crash course in Swahili, learning to give and receive wishes for peace, and then stood for James Weldon Johnson’s Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Though Kwanzaa itself is a relatively new tradition, Smith emphasized its foundation in African community values that are thousands of years old, and the importance of honoring ancestors, living family, and future generations.
Two costumed students appeared as the Egyptian queens Hatsheput and Cleopatra, and then the group performed a choral poem called “Zaila” by Bogan-El.
Bits of grass skirt costume littered the stage as the students took part in a dance performances, with traditional African and contemporary hip-hop flavor.
In a skit called “The Meaning of Kwanzaa,” authored by Hopkins, four students explored the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Delays, a troubled sound system and errant PA notices thwarted the performance at several points, but the youngsters onstage didn’t lose their spirits.
A brief Kwanzaa ceremony with the whole cast closed the show.
Smith narrated many of the history-honoring principles symbolized in the performance.
“If we stand tall, it’s because we stand tall on the backs of our ancestors and elders.”