Unity. Self-determination. Collective work and responsibility. Cooperative economics. Purpose. Creativity. Faith.

One of these seven principles will be carefully examined and celebrated on each of the seven days immediately following Christmas as Kwanzaa is celebrated.

Thursday night, area residents of all faiths and races will have an opportunity to sample the Kwanzaa celebration of family, community and culture as practiced by the family of Alton and Renay Scales. This Kwanzaa preview, which begins at 7 p.m. at United Fellowship Church of God, 561 State St., Meadville, is free and open to the public.

“We’re relatively new to Meadville, but wherever we are, we try to bring cultural celebrations to wherever we live,” said Renay, who is leading Thursday’s celebration. Assistant vice president for human resources and diversity at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania since 2003, Scales is looking forward to sharing the Kwanzaa tradition with the community as it has been manifested in her family for almost two decades.

“We’re Christian,” she explained, “but we collaborate and commune with people of other faiths. While Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, participants will be able to see many of the values that are affiliated with religious life in the celebration itself.”

Part of the presentation will focus on conveying information about each of the days, “but they won’t just hear a lecture,” Scales said. “It’s participatory. Interactive.” People of all ages from children to elders are welcome, she stressed, and drumming will definitely be involved. “I really encourage everyone to come out and really have a great time experiencing the celebration,” she said.

The celebration of Kwanzaa, a response to the turbulence of the Watts section of Los Angeles of the mid-1960s, has expanded during the past four decades far beyond the shores of the United States.

Following the Watts revolt in September 1965, Maulana Karenga, a graduate student at the time, became a founding member of Organization Us. According to the history of the organization as published on the www.us-organization.org Web site, “Out of the fires and struggle of that period we projected a new vision of possibility through service, struggle and institution-building.” In 1966, the organization created Kwanzaa and introduced “Nguzo Saba,” the Seven Principles, “a critical value system for rescuing and reconstructing our lives as a people.”

Now a professor in the department of black studies at California State University at Long Beach, Karenga, who is credited with founding Kwanzaa, explains on www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org that the holiday must “be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people’s culture.”

During the seven-day celebration, gifts, which must always include a book and a heritage symbol, are given, primarily to children. The book emphasizes the African value and tradition of learning that has been stressed since the days of ancient Egypt, while the heritage symbol reaffirms and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.

The Kwanzaa tradition is laden with symbolic meaning.

For example, black, representing the African people; red, symbolizing the blood of the African people; and green, symbolizing the hope of new life, are the colors of Kwanzaa. All three colors are used both in decorations and in the seven candles that play a key symbolic role in the celebration.

The candles are placed in a candleholder at the beginning of the celebration and one new candle is lit each day. The black candle, representing unity, the first principle, is in the center. Three red candles, representing the principles of self-determination, cooperative economics and creativity, are placed to the left of the black candle and three green candles, representing collective work and responsibility, purpose, and faith, are placed to its right. The black candle is lit on the first day, serving as a reminder that the people come first. The remaining candles are lit from left to right on following days, reminding participants first of the struggle and then of the hope that rises from the struggle.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com

You can go

Area residents of all faiths and races will have an opportunity to sample the Kwanzaa celebration of family, community and culture Thursday at 7 p.m. at United Fellowship Church of God, 561 State St., Meadville. The interactive event is free and open to the public.

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