BCC Celebrates Community and Culture at Annual Kwanzaa Celebration

Entering the Upper Tarble All Campus Space, the joyful music of Raymond Charles & the Caribbean Authentics welcomed those joining the BCC for their annual Kwanzaa celebration on Wednesday, December 6th. Students, faculty, and staff all gathered at tables dressed with green, red, and black tablecloth to share a meal together to “celebrate Black history and Black excellence,” as Professor Jamie Thomas said.

Raymond Charles & the Caribbean Authentics play music as guests enter.

Raymond Charles & the Caribbean Authentics play music as guests enter.

As explained by the BCC, “Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili word Kwanza, meaning ‘first’ and refers to the first fruits of harvest...working towards a successful harvest is a communal effort, as is the celebration.” Though Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and will end on January 1st of 2018, today’s gathering honored the same values of community and celebration. For Faith Booker ‘21, Kwanzaa is “a way to celebrate history for people who don’t have a defined history outside of the US, a way to take back ancestry without knowing what it is.”

Presiders Maxine Annoh ‘18 and Terence Thomas ‘21 opened the program and introduced Joy George ‘20, who shared her reflections on Kwanzaa. Unlike many of the holidays celebrated around the end of December, Kwanzaa is a “secular tradition...a pride in heritage and a celebration of [Black] humanity.” Everyone was then asked to stand and invited to join in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem. Before lunch was served, Joyce Tompkins, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life stepped up to the podium and led a prayer.

After everyone was settled and satisfied with their meals, the Swarthmore Gospel Choir shared their talents to open the second half of the program, even compelling some attendees to sing along with them. Professor Thomas introduced the audience to the kikombe cha umoja, the unity cup used to pour libations. According to Professor Thomas, this tradition is “a way to commune with those who have left us and as well as communicating with those from the future.” The kikombe cha umoja is used to pour water into the ground as it is returned back “from whence it came.”

Presiders Terence Thomas ‘21 and Maxine Annoh ‘18 welcome attendees.

Presiders Terence Thomas ‘21 and Maxine Annoh ‘18 welcome attendees.

The libations took the form of a call-and-response. Professor Thomas reflected on the past, present, and future, honoring the “ancestors who lit [the] path...the ingenuity to create pyramids and statuesque figures...and those who will come after us...understanding there is a cultural continuity across a diaspora.” After each statement, Professor Thomas would pour the water from the kikombe cha umoja onto a poinsettia and into the soil. At the same time, the audience responded in whichever way they felt compelled to do, with many calling out “ashe” or “amen.”

Professor Thomas proceeded to describe the different symbols placed on the Kwanzaa table at the front of the room. She pointed out the books used to represent knowledge and celebration of the past, ears of corn for children, and fruits for the harvest. At the center of the table was the kinara and mishumaa saba, the candleholder and the seven candles, one for each day of Kwanzaa. Beneath the kinara was a mkeka, a straw mat to represent the foundation for this history and its celebration. In addition to teaching Swahili terms related to Kwanzaa, Professor Thomas and the students from her Swahili class shared a few more commonly-used terms like habari gani, which means “How are you?”

Following the short Swahili lesson, Nakia Waters, BCC and First in Family Program Coordinator came up to light the seven candles of Kwanzaa. For each candle, Annoh and Thomas read a description of each principle the candle represents: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

To close the program, Dean Dion Lewis issued a few remarks on the meaning of Kwanzaa for him. He invited all attendees to “take a moment to reflect on family, community, integrity of our environment, and the intense resources of the diversity of our community.” With that, the joyful music resumed as the celebration came to an end.

As the room cleared, Annoh looked on proudly at the event she and the rest of the BCC successfully executed. “This is my third year doing this. It isn’t one of those events that we just threw together. Every year Professor Thomas comes and reminds us to stand together and brings everyone together from the EVS staff to the people in the Dean’s office…[it] puts things into perspective...The message is very simple but very profound. I always have to stop and think about what she’s saying. People have been doing this for years.”

As Tiauna Lewis ‘19 says, “I really like Kwanzaa because it happens once a year, and we can expect that this one day in the fall the BCC will host this...we can learn about African Americans’ lives. I come every year even though I know the information. I love it.”