Kwanzaa 2015 @ UMass: The Celebration

By: Olivia Laramie

On Dec. 8th 2015, the Malcolm X Cultural Center and the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS)  hosted the annual Kwanzaa Celebration in the Student Union Ballroom at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The event was co-supported by local African Diaspora Alumni, faculty, staff, and student organizations. The event also served as a remembrance of the challenges faced by the African Diaspora.

Donisha White, a senior biology major at UMass, spoke on behalf of the Malcolm X Center staff and about her Afro-AM/CMASS Independent Study Project: revitalizing Freshmen Achieving More for Undergraduate Success (FAMUS). As a first generation student from Springfield, MA., Ms. White spoke about her personal struggle in achieving her  undergraduate degree while attending a school where so few people look like her. She expressed her frustration in the lack of representation in her major and other STEM majors, joking that when she meets someone of Afro-Caribbean descent like herself, they are “immediately [her] best friend.” Ms. White reminded the audience that, “there is power in unity, there is power in collaborative effort.”  She also spoke about her rationale for revitalizing F.A.M.U.S. as a student driven “on-going orientation” support network for First Generation freshmen of color.  White indicated the importance and role that F.A.M.U.S played in her freshmen year, and as a graduating senior she wanted to be part of a legacy that sustains RSO/Cultural Center collaboration  that can be the liaison between the other important CMASS, Afro-Am and other First Generation  initiatives on campus.   White’s presentation was well received by the audience.    

The musical guest for the evening was Sheps Hetep Ancestral Voices, from Harlem, New York who performed a variety of African traditional ancestral music. Additionally, they provided the attendees with an educational moment as they explained the history and purpose of the Kwanzaa celebration. Sheps Hetep was founded in the late 1980’s by Tchet Khater, Shabu Bak Men, and Aquah Tcherbu. They are dedicated to the preservation of ancestral African musical forms through traditional and contemporary expression.

The evening ended with the ceremonial lighting of the seven candles in the Kinara. The three candles on the left were red, representing struggle; the three on the right were green, representing hope; and the one in the center is black, signifying the African American people or those who draw their heritage from Africa.

The seven candles, lit for each day, represent a principle. The Kwanzaa planning committee selected specific individuals or organizations or departments on campus whose work this year exemplified on one of the seven principles.

  • "Umoja" – Unity (lit by the Malcolm X Cultural Center Staff
  • "Kujichagulia" - Self-determination (lit by the Latin American Cultural Center Staff)
  • "Ujima" - Collective work and responsibility (lit by a representative of the  Black Student Union)
  • "Ujamaa" - Cooperative economics( lit by a representative from UMASS Dining Services)
  • "Nia" – Purpose ( lit by representatives of Upward Bound and Student Bridges)
  • Dec. 31: "Kuumba" – Creativity (lit by a member of Sheps Hetep Ancestral Voices)
  • Jan. 1: "Imani" – Faith (lit by student staff employee of Cultural Enrichment who had significant financial obstacles to resolve this year in order to stay in school)