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Here’s How to Celebrate Kwanzaa in Birmingham

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Clarence Muhammad, second from left, chair of the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee, and other members of the group prepare for a week long of activities. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

By Shauna Stuart | sstuart@al.com

Clarence Muhammad has spent the past few days putting the final touches on this year’s series of Kwanzaa celebrations throughout the city of Birmingham. Muhammad, the chair of the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee, and his team have planned festivals, lectures, and performances for each day of Kwanzaa. After a smaller celebration in 2020 due to precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Muhammad is hoping for a return to the festivities of previous years.

“We didn’t put it on pause last year, but it was very restricted and limited because of COVID,” said Muhammad.

An annual celebration of American American culture, Kwanzaa is held from December 26 to January 1.

Founded in 1966 by professor and activist Maluna Karenga, the seven-day observance is based on harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa. Steeped in the celebration of family, community, and learning, Kwanzaa is based on seven principles: unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Ujima), cooperative economics (Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba) and faith (Imani). On each day of Kwanzaa, families light a candle on the Kinara to celebrate a different principle.

On Umojia, or the first day of Kwanzaa, the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee hosted a panel discussion featuring the organizers of Black cultural festivals in the city, including Brenda Page Ward of the National Juneteenth festival and Pauline Ford, the founder and president of the Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization or CAC. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the CAC would host an annual music, food, and art festival. For the past two years, the CAC has hosted its annual celebration virtually.

The goal of the panel, says Muhammad, is to invite the organizers to reintroduce themselves to the community.

“I think there are a lot of people in Birmingham who don’t even know that we have a Caribbean festival,” said Muhammad.

For Imani, the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa, the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee and the National Hookup of Black Women have planned the inaugural Kwanzaa Ball, a formal celebration of dancing, art, and culture at the Ensley Live Loft.

While the ball will be celebration’s grand finale, Muhammad says he’s looking forward to the event the Birmingham Kwanzaa Committee has planned for Kuumba– the sixth principle and day of Kwanzaa– which will be a night-long celebration at the Crescent Cultural Center with food vendors, music, and performers.

“That’s where everyone gives their talents. The food, the dancing. That’s going to be just real awesome.”

Aside from the ball, all of the events organized by the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee are free to the public. The committee is also encouraging attendees to wear masks to the event in order to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

Muhammad says while the 2020 celebrations were smaller in person, the joy and jubilation of Kwanzaa was still palpable. This year, he thinks the return of the festivities will usher in a big–and hopefully safe– return of Kwanzaa throughout the city and a brighter outlook to 2021.

“I honestly can say so. We’re doing it real big.”

Artist Willie Williams Jr., who owns the Studio 2500 art gallery and sculpture garden, has also planned a Kwanzaa celebration to welcome the new year. From Dec. 26 to January 1, Studio 2500 will host a Kwanzaa art sale featuring paintings, sculpture, and prints.

The seven-day sale at the gallery will commence with an opening exhibition showcasing new work from Williams and his father, Willie Williams, as well as pieces from artists Larry Silver and Alan Thornton. The ticketed exhibition will feature music and hors d’oeuvres.

“My tagline for that [exhibit] is “Go into the new year with new art that reflects a new spirit,” said Williams.

The exhibit and seven-day art sale at Studio 2500 is running in conjunction with #BuyBlackBham, a spending campaign from Urban Impact and the city of Birmingham to support local, Black-owned businesses during the holiday shopping season. Led by Urban Impact and Mastercard, the campaign allows shoppers to scan, upload and text receipts and invoices from purchases at local, Black-owned businesses in Birmingham (including Studio 2500) to qualify for a raffle of prizes and rewards. To participate in the campaign, shoppers must log receipts at BuyBlackBham.com or text receipts to 205-900-4750. The second drawing will be held on Jan. 4.

Planning to celebrate Kwanzaa in Birmingham? From art events to lectures, here’s how to spend your time.

WEEK-LONG EVENTS

Kwanza kits at the Birmingham Public Library’s Southside Branch

The Southside Branch of the Birmingham Public Library is offering free art kits for patrons to celebrate and craft the symbols of Kwanzaa– a mkeka (a straw mat used as a foundation of the principles of Kwanzaa, a Kinara, or candleholder, and mishumaa saba (a set of candles).

DETAILS/TIME: Pickup is available during library hours.

LOCATION: Birmingham Public Library Southside Branch| 1814 11th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205

DECEMBER 26 to JANUARY 1

KUJICHAGULIA: MONDAY, DECEMBER 27

BIRMINGHAM KWANZAA COMMITTEE PRESENTS KUJICHAGULIA

Yolene Barrow, the president of the Haitian-American Association of Alabama will be the keynote speaker for Kujichagulia.

TIME/ DETAILS: 6 p.m. Event is open to the public.

LOCATION: Davis Event Gallery| 501 Minor Parkway, Birmingham 35244

UJIMA: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28

BIRMINGHAM KWANZAA COMMITTEE PRESENTS UJIMA

Posted by Birmingham Kwanzaa on Friday, December 24, 2021

For the principle of collective work and responsibility, the Birmingham Kwanzaa Committee will host a panel featuring Black women who are doing service work in the community, including Tori Love of Mommy’s Lounge, an organization that helps provide resources such as food and employment skills for single mothers experiencing financial hardship.

TIME/ DETAILS: 6 p.m. Event is open to the public.

LOCATION: Boutwell Auditorium| 1930 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35203

UJAMAA: WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29

BIRMINGHAM KWANZAA COMMITTEE PRESENTS UJAMAA

The Birmingham Kwanzaa Committee will host an evening of drumming and dancing from the Sahi On Ko Djony drumming group, followed by an art event designed to teach children the principles of economics.

TIME/ DETAILS: 6 p.m. Event is open to the public.

LOCATION: Birmingham Public Library, Five Points West Branch| 4812 Avenue W, Birmingham, AL 35208

NIA: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30

BIRMINGHAM KWANZAA COMMITTEE PRESENTS NIA

The Birmingham Kwanzaa Committee and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will host a joint lecture and panel.

TIME/ DETAILS: 6 p.m. Event is open to the public.

LOCATION: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute| 520 16th St N, Birmingham, AL 35203

KUUMBA: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31

BIRMINGHAM KWANZAA COMMITTEE PRESENTS KUUMBA

For Kuumba, the Birmingham Cultural Committee will host a night-long celebration with dancing, music and performances, vendors, and activities for children.

TIME/ DETAILS: 6 p.m. Event is open to the public.

LOCATION: The Crescent Cultural Community Center | 1121 Tuscaloosa Ave, Birmingham, AL 35211

IMANI: SATURDAY, JANUARY 1

THE INAUGURAL KWANZAA BALL

For the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa, the Birmingham Kwanzaa committee and the National Hookup of Black Women will host the inaugural Kwanzaa Ball, a formal celebration of dancing, art, and culture at the Ensley Live Loft.

TIME/ DETAILS: 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. Tickets range from $50 to $75. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

LOCATION: Ensley Live Entertainment Loft | 1816 Avenue E, Birmingham, AL 35218