The sanctuary at Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, 3890 Millbranch Rd., overflowed with celebrants of Imani (faith) – the concluding principle of the seven-day observation of Kwanzaa – on New Year’s afternoon.
Founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 during the aftermath of the Watts riot, the African-American holiday annually is embraced as an opportunity for African Americans to “celebrate themselves and their history.”
Sponsored by Mid-South Kwanzaa, Inc., the celebration began with a welcome by Osupa Moon, president of Mid-South Kwanzaa, and the host pastor, the Rev. Dr. Earl J. Fisher, reminding those present that they were in “the blackest church” in Memphis.
Each day of Kwanzaa includes acknowledgment of the “African Pledge,” which concludes with these phrases:
“We will struggle to resurrect and unify our homeland. We will raise many children for our nation. We will have discipline, patience, devotion, and courage. We will live as models, to provide new direction to our people. We will be free and self-determining. We are African people. WE WILL WIN!”
Honoring and acknowledging ancestors is integral to Kwanzaa and that was woven throughout the New Year’s Day service and collectively observed during the pouring of Libations.
The day’s King and Queen were environmental advocate and community activist Justin Pearson and Ayana C. Williams, the new executive director of the Blues City Cultural Center.
Deke Pope shared the purpose of Kwanzaa ahead of Francis Barnes gathering all the children for lighting the candles that reflect the seven principles of Kwanzaa:
Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumb (creativity) and Imani (faith).
The day’s speakers included Ekpe Abioto, who emphasized reading books about African history and introduced his forthcoming book focused on increasing awareness about gun safety.
Queen Ayana shared the history of the Blues City Cultural Center, founded by her parents, and gave a glimpse of what her focus will be in building on the legacy.
King Justin emphasized developing a “Kin-dom” – as opposed to a kingdom – with relationships rooted in long-held principles and with children, particularly, in mind.
Fisher spoke on “reclaiming our heritage.” And in response to Abioto’s suggestion that Kwanzaa be celebrated at least once a month, Fisher offered Abyssinian as the venue every first Sunday.
Omar Baruti detailed the significance of taking on African names during the naming ceremony before special recognition of the day’s honorees: Iyalaje Oguwale, Stephen Lee, Mama Ayodele Kofie, Sah Maat, Pearson, Jasira Olatunji, Patrick Lumumba and Crystal Denise.
Dr. Carnita Atwater, acknowledged as the “first woman of color to run for the office of governor in the history of this great state,” was awarded the inaugural Nguzo Saba Cultural Impact Award.