How Pittsburghers can celebrate Kwanzaa and renew for 2017

It’s about culture, community and reflection.

SoulChristmas / flickr
MJ Slaby

T. Rashad Byrdsong knows there’s “a lot of confusion, a lot of people that lost hope,” given the the current political climate.

But Kwanzaa — not a religious holiday, but a cultural one — is a time for renewal for yourself and your community, said Byrdsong, president and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association.

Kwanzaa was created during the “social upheaval in the ’60s,” Byrdsong said, adding that it’s celebrated by nearly 30 million people across the country and more people in other parts of the world. Kwanzaa is a way to focus on African culture and history, something that he said isn’t taught in school or at church.

Starting Dec. 26, there are seven principles observed during seven days. Byrdsong said those principles should be viewed as action verbs and “applied in everyday life throughout the year.” Here’s a quick overview of each day and its principle from Byrdsong:

  1. Umoja: A recommitment to unity
  2. Kujichagulia: Self-determination to “define yourself and your goals”
  3. Ujima: Working together to support one another
  4. Ujamaa: Cooperative economics
  5. Nia: Defining your purpose in life
  6. Kuumba: Creativity
  7. Imani: Faith in yourself and in your religion

For the seven days, people spend each day thinking about that day’s principle and concrete examples for it in their life, said Byrdsong, who started CEA in 1994. The association aims to address the needs of the African American community in Pittsburgh. The CEA has a Kwanzaa celebration each year. Here are more details on this year’s gathering on Kwanzaa’s fifth day:

CEA Kwanzaa Celebration

For 22 years, CEA has celebrated Kwanzaa with a community event. Come for dancing, drumming, singing and a community feast. Bring a covered dish (no pork) and a toy. No RSVP needed.

Where:CEA Arts, Culture & Training Center at 7120 Kelly Street. (South Homewood)

When:December 30, 2016 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

How much:Free

The celebration will include dancing, drumming and storytelling, as well as gifts for children and discussions about the coming year and reflection on the past year. Byrdsong said the event is a way for people to access their culture and to learn how to employ the seven principles in their jobs and with their family and friends. Since it’s not a religious holiday, he said, the event draws a diverse group of both Muslims and Christians.

You don’t need to make reservations or pay to attend, but if you’re going, bring a covered dish — no pork — and a toy for that will go to one of the kids there. Byrdsong said gift-giving at Kwanzaa doesn’t come with the stress and anxiety that can accompany Christmas shopping. Bring something simple and educational, like a book or puzzle.

After all, Kwanzaa is not just about physical things, but is “mind, body and soul renewing,” he said.