Kwanzaa celebration embraces African culture, history

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Pounding drums and swaying dancers immersed a crowd of more than 100 into a traditional Kwanzaa celebration Saturday evening.

The African food, music, dancing and historical performances in the Smith Recreation Center, organized by the Umoja Group of Fayetteville, came on the second of the annual seven days of celebration. The festival observance, when descendants of Africans mark the history and culture of their ancestral continent and unite as a community, began in 1966 and is based on traditions following a hunt or harvest.

“We are here to embrace our culture,” said Cassandra Standifer, who was leading the program.

Seven candles were lit in a ceremony representing seven principles remembered during Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

People look forward to the celebration all year, said Wanda Wesley, of Umoja Group.

The group also participates in Fayetteville’s International Folklore Festival with food and dancing, she said.

“Fayetteville appreciates the cultural diversity,” Wesley said.

The Kwanzaa celebration is a good way to share the African culture, said David Fielder, also a member of Umoja Group.

He donned a dark green Dashiki with gold embroidery. He said he has been attending the Kwanzaa celebration for more than a decade.

“It’s a great way of teaching history,” he said. “It’s important to continue the celebration every year so children understand their culture. We have a history outside of slavery. We have to teach them about their culture.”

Dancers J’Neisha Bourne, 11, and her cousin Zanaye Carmelo, 10, warmed up backstage before their performance. J’Neisha had already performed at Westarea Elementary School, where she is a fifth-grade student, earlier this month.

“I like how we were in the beat,” Bourne said, describing the dance routine.

The performance was part of a larger program at the school that touched on several different winter celebrations. J’Neisha said she was excited to share Kwanzaa with her classmates.

“They got to learn about our tradition, the dances that we do and the clothes we wear,” she said. “It was really cool.”

Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at or 910-486-3528.

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