Bay Area residents celebrate African holiday

Celebrations for the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day African-American holiday created 40 years ago by a California State University professor, were held throughout the Bay Area on Tuesday.

Born out of the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960s, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a black studies professor at Long Beach State, to strengthen community and reaffirm community identity and purpose among African-Americans. The secular holiday is centered on seven values: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

During the Kwanzaa holiday, families and communities focus on the principals, each represented by a candle on a candleholder, called a Kinara. One candle is lit each day. Celebrations include music and gifts, among other rituals. Symbolic decorations include a woven mat, a unity candle, corn and other crops, and a black, red and green flag, the same as the pan-African flag.

For nearly a decade, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito has held its annual Kwanzaa celebration. Offering free admission on Tuesday, the museum displayed Africa-inspired art projects, a Kwanzaa altar and a performance by a local youth hip-hop dance group.

Each year, attendance at the Kwanzaa event gets bigger, according to the museum’s deputy director, Janet Petitpas.

“We find we get people from all over the Bay Area who seek out our Kwanzaa event,” said Petitpas, who added that the crowds are not just African-American. “It’s been our impression that people like that it is very value-based and about family and community.”

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom declared Tuesday “Kwanzaa Celebration Day,” and a one-hour commemoration — with an introduction of the principals by local children, a brief history lesson about the holiday and gospel singers — was held on the steps of City Hall.

“It’s important to pass on the principals of Kwanzaa,” said Adrian Williams, an event organizer with the youth group Village Project who works with children from Western Addition public housing. “We’re teaching kids that they have to take responsibility not only for themselves and their family, but also their race.”

Thirteen-year-old LaJonnae Muhammad, who participated in the event, said she has learned about Kwanzaa at school and once went over to a friend’s house for a Kwanzaa celebration, but her family doesn’t observe the holiday at home.

“Culture is your spirit, people should celebrate it,” Muhammad said.

Kwanzaa celebrations for each of the sevennights of the holiday have been organized by Williams and others at sites throughout the Fillmore and Western Addition this week, including an event tonight at 6 p.m. at the African American Arts & Culture Complex at 762 Fulton St.

For more information about the Village Project’s Kwanzaa Celebration, call (415) 424-2507.

S.F. allows Christmas tree at City Hall

While San Francisco has a two-story Christmas tree, decorated with white paper origami cranes, prominently displayed in the middle of City Hall, Seattle recently decided to remove decorated conifers from one of its public airports after a local rabbi requested that a giant Jewish menorah be added to the holiday display.

Though the presence of a holiday symbol associated with religion on public property

hasn’t created controversy here, Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad of San Francisco, who organizes an annual menorah display and candle lighting ceremony at Union Square in observation of Hanukkah, said he would appreciate an opportunity to display a menorah at City Hall.

“I feel the more light that’s brought into this world the better,” Langer said.

Meanwhile, a Kwanzaa celebration at City Hall, complete with gospel singers, received an official proclamation from Mayor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. The African-American holiday is considered secular.

The Mayor’s Office referred questions about The City’s holiday display to the office of City Administrator Edwin Lee, who did not respond to an e-mail or a phone call from The Examiner by press time.

Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanuel said the separation between church and state makes it inappropriate to put any religious symbol — even a menorah — on public property.

“It unleashes a lot of concerns,” Pearce said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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