Kwanzaa highlights collective work, responsibility

By Tim Hrenchir

The Capital-Journal
Published Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some people inaccurately assume that Kwanzaa is a “black Christmas,” Topekan Keith McClain said Friday evening.

Actually, he said, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration containing elements of several “first fruits” festivals of classical African cultures.

Photo by: Jason Hunter / The Capital-Journal

Dr. Gilbert Parks looks on as Joan Wilson, center, brings together Darrick Parks, 5, and Kayla Parker, 4, to light the Ujima candle that represents collective work and responsibility, during the third night of Kwanzaa on Friday at the Abbott Community Center.


The cultural holiday of Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and was first celebrated on those dates in 1966-67. Kwanzaa is based on seven principles derived from African culture. Those are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

McClain was among about 25 people who took part Friday evening in the third of seven Topeka Kwanzaa observances that began Dec. 26 and run daily through Jan. 1.

Friday’s event took place at Abbott Community Center, 1114 S.E. 10th, where Kwanzaa also will be observed at 6 p.m. today, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The final night’s celebration will include a feast and a “night of the elders” program featuring appearances by several people ages 85 and older, said Topekan Dr. Gilbert Parks.

Friday’s program was led by Parks, who said Kwanzaa originated in the United States but is based on festivals held by African cultures to give thanks to the spirits for delivering a good harvest.

Speakers addressed Friday’s audience from behind a table ceremonially covered with such fruits of agriculture as corn, oranges, grapes, bananas and pineapples.

McClain told those on hand that Kwanzaa is based on seven principles derived from African culture. Each night’s program during the ongoing celebration focuses on one of those principles.

Friday’s event centered on the concept of collective work and responsibility.

“We will make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems ours to solve together,” Parks said.

He stressed the importance for them of leaving their community a better place than they found it. Parks asked McClain and Lazone Grays, the speakers for Friday’s program, to talk about what qualities they received from their ancestors that help them make their community a better place.

Grays said an important quality he received was “resilience.”

“There’s more than enough that’s out there that can make you feel beat down,” he said, but a resilient person keeps working to overcome barriers and challenges.

McClain told of how he received the gifts of “strength and pride” from the grandmother who raised him.

Audience members then talked about qualities they received. Those included patience, self-confidence, a thirst for knowledge and a commitment to stand up for what is right.

Parks also spoke about the importance of being able to endure hardship. He told a story about two African boys, one of whom had lived an easy life and the other who had encountered considerable adversity.

Parks said that because he had experienced failure, the latter boy was better equipped to deal with the problems he would inevitably encounter as he grew older.

“He who has plenty often grows weak,” he said.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or

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