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On Tuesday, Philadelphia will light its first official kinara.
The candelabra holds seven candlesticks that represent each of The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. Standing nearly 11 feet tall, it will be placed in the southwest corner of City Hall for the duration of the celebration.
Local artist Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza created the kinara and says she’s elated that the city has finally added the symbol central to Kwanzaa.
“I’m very excited,” she told WHYY News. “This has been my lifelong mission to help promote this beautiful cultural celebration.”
Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach as a non-religious celebration of African-American culture. Since then, it has gone global, being adopted by members of the African diaspora around the world.
“I just reposted a celebration in Switzerland,” Sullivan-Ongoza said. “The other day I posted one that was in Guadalupe. Black people are everywhere and wherever we are, this is a way that we can be unified around these seven days. It started in the United States, but it is now what we call Pan-African. It’s global.”
Sullivan-Ongoza started celebrating Kwanzaa just a couple of years after it was founded. Now she gives presentations on Kwanzaa at schools each year, often two or three per day. The curriculum includes The Seven Principles – Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Native to Philadelphia, the 76-year-old retired social worker and educator has made hundreds of kinaras by hand over the years, many of them for schools, churches, and other organizations. Last year, she received an order from New York City to make their municipal kinara.
However, getting an official kinara in Philadelphia had been her ultimate goal. She found an ally in Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who has pushed to make it happen for the last year.
“We have been celebrating Kwanzaa here in Philadelphia for over 50 years, thanks to the great work of Mama Maisha and the Kwanzaa Cooperative,” Brooks said at a news conference at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Parkway Central branch on Dec. 14. She noted that it was past time for the city to have an official kinara to join the city’s official Christmas tree and Menorah.
Working with others to make the kinara this year, Sullivan-Ongoza says that they employed each of The Seven Principles.
“We worked as a team,” she explains. “We had to have the creativity. We knew the purpose of it. And basically, we had to have a lot of faith. They had to have faith in me as the primary builder, but we had that faith in each other.”
Visitors are welcome to join the ceremonial lighting to be held at noon, which will also feature remarks by Sullivan-Ongoza, as well as a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”