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Kwanzaa program leaves locals wanting more

BRADENTON -- Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Barack Obama were just some of the names called out by some of the 100 people attending the first Kwanzaa program Sunday at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

Participants were urged to call out names of those family and community members who have impacted their lives during the celebration of African culture.

Tommie Lee Jones, 51, called out her grandparents’ names. Willie Lee and Tommie Lee Jones had never experienced Kwanzaa before and were struck by the unity created by celebrating her African-American roots.

“Can you believe that at my age I didn’t know what it was?,” she asked. “It was beautiful and educational.”

The celebration also honored community and family, two of the other pillars of the Kwanzaa experience.

The holiday -- Kwanzaa in Swahili means “first fruits of the harvest” -- was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966 for the purpose of giving African-Americans a chance to celebrate themselves and their origins.

The holiday lasts from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year.

The name

During each day of the holiday, candles are lit and one of seven principles -- unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith --are discussed.

“What we hope for with the program is to bring some awareness in our community for cultural pride,” said Robert Dunlap with Rogers Project Hope, Inc., co-sponsors of the event.

“We want people to start thinking about this, feeling good about it,” Dunlap said.

The audience was entertained by The Village Community, a troupe that performed some traditional African dances led by Sharon Martin.

Nina Burwell, of Sarasota, the Kwanzaa leader at St. Paul’s on Sunday, read to the audience and discussed the tenets of the holiday.

She also called the children of the church to the front and explained to them that their parents and grandparents are available to impart wisdom to them if they will ask for it.

“They have something you don’t have and can’t have -- life experiences,” Burwell told the children. “Listen to them. They are not trying to run your lives. They are trying to guide your lives.”

She also explained that the greatest gift in the world is a human being who has reached his or her full potential.

She held up a jar of beans, which symbolizes potential.

“You are like these tiny beans, each with the potential inside of it to grow into something great,” Burwell said.

St. Paul’s pastor, The Rev. James Roberts, was so impressed with Burwell that he invited her back next year 10 minutes after she finished.

She accepted.

“Our ancestors told us there were only two things that really mattered, faith and family,” Roberts said in his closing remarks. “They were right.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.