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Sharing and sustaining the world

BRADENTON -- It started with a symbolic African drum roll, moved on to an invocation by The Rev. James Roberts, and soared with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Poignant images from the American civil rights struggle were shown on a screen as the audience sang the lyrics:

“Out from the gloomy past, ’til now we stand at last

“Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”

It was all part of the celebration of the first night of Kwanzaa on Monday at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 525 Martin Luther King Ave. E.

Some, like Jonathan Brooker, had never attended a Kwanzaa event.

“I wanted to bring my children and learn what I could,” Brooker said.

What he discovered is that Kwanzaa is not a religious event or a substitute for Christmas.

It is a celebration of the experience and history of African-Americans, and a cultural event. And while it does celebrate the black struggle, Kwanzaa is welcoming of people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Indeed, said Jackie Lewis, who presided at the celebration, “That which is good is never finished. Our work has just begun.”

A large part of that work is to teach, to learn, to make sure that history is not forgotten, she said.

Children played a prominent role in the celebration with dance, song and Kwanzaa rituals such as lighting candles.

Nina Burwell spoke directly to the children in the audience, and had them repeat after her:

“I am with my mind and my potential able to be anything that I want to be.”

Children will be the keepers of tradition and history and must pass on what they have learned to future generations, Burwell said.

“You are our legacy,” she said.

One of the organizers of the celebration, Robert Dunlap, the president of Rogers Project Hope, asked the children to be proud of who they are.

“I want you to be proud of how God made you,” he said.

Kwanzaa is a uniquely American holiday, which is designed around seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

The application of those principles has never been more difficult than in a time of economic challenge, said Johncyna McRae.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “Sharing and sustaining the world.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-7457021. Tweet @jajones1.