Experience Kwanzaa in Birmingham


bos picBy Andre J. Thomas

Entertainment Blogger

December 30, 2015

Last night I had the honor of attending my very first Kwanzaa event. I’d heard about the special festival for years, but never took the time to figure out the meaning behind it or its significance. For those of my readers that are naive to the experience as I was, I decided to share my commentary with you so that we can say that we experienced it together (#WeAreFamily).


What is Kwanzaa?


The symbolic event took place at the legendary Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Created by Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is a seven day festival designed to engage communities in fellowship and reflection. It also is designed to pay homage to African American history and to discuss ways to improve culture in our community. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th, the day after Christmas, and continues until New Years Day, January 1st.

What happens at Kwanzaa event?

The event kicked off with a drum call featuring musician Jumo.


BCRI Vice President of Institutional Programs, Priscilla Hancock Cooper followed her intuition last night and deviated from the typical libations by reciting a poem written by Dr. Margaret Burroughs titled, “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black!”


The powerful piece was inspired by the no indictment outcome rendered to the officers who were accused of killing 12 year- old, Tamir Rice. Cooper made it known to us how disheartening the verdict was, as she felt a bond to Tamir because he reminded Cooper of her grandson. Those who agreed with Cooper’s experience replied saying, “Ashe,” a word that symbolizes affirmation.

The premise behind Cooper’s message was to inspire each of us to take ownership in teaching our young kids how to be confident in themselves. Their survival is needed for all humanity, Cooper replied.

Leading the audience in a libations to pay respect to those who have gone on before us, Cooper poured a liquid into a potted plant as names such as Hariett Tubman, Fred Shuttlesworth, Tupac Shakur, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Trayvon Martin were called. I believe observing the libations was the most unique part of my experience. When I saw brothas in the hood pouring drinks for deceased individuals, I honestly never connected it to an African tradition. So I actually walked away with a deeper understanding you can say.

After the libations were completed, Outreach Coordinator, Samuel Pugh spoke to us about aspirations to see his kids grow up. Pugh stated that previously, “the talk” referred to “the birds and the bees!” He commented that now the talk you must have with your children is “how to behave during a traffic stop!”


Pugh closed his speech by encouraging parents to become active voices in the PTA so that our kids are given the best educational experience; regardless of the school that they attend.

I personally liked Pugh’s message because it was sincere and gave effective ways to rebuild our community from its foundation.


The candle lighting was also a very good thing to experience. This part of the festival was led by the Legacy Youth Leadership Team (YLT). Spokesman for the evening was Barry McNealy Jr.


Sharing the seven principles of Kwanzaa, students from the the YLT lit a candle as McNealy shared with us how each principle  could be used effectively to enhance our community.


The seven principles were purpose, unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, and faith.


Closing out the assembly, the audience collectively performed the Kwanzaa song.


Special Thanks to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for hosting the event and Melissa Snow-Clark for the exclusive invite to experience a dynamic expression of cultural relevancy.


IG: @AndreTheBloggerAndre J. Thomas is a 5x Award Winning Producer and Entertainment Blogger based out of Birmingham, Alabama. He can be heard every Saturday on the hit radio show, Joe Lockett Show. The Joe Lockett Show airs on 101.1 FM & 1260 AM (Metro Birmingham) every Saturday from 4pm to 7pm CST. You can also read articles written by Andre in The Birmingham Times, Black Moguls Magazine, and on andrejthomas.com.



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