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Celebrating Kwanzaa: Afrocentric School Incorporates Holiday Into Lesson About Cultural Heritage

Tuesday, December 26, 2000 at 12:21 PM

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Today, people all over the world will celebrate the first day of the week-long Kwanzaa season. The African American holiday, which means "first fruits" in Swahili, is celebrated in homes, churches and even schools. In fact, it is the theme for schools like Stewart primary school in Akron. The public school is the only one in Akron's district to identify itself as "Afrocentric," a move the school made in August. And as 90.3's Tarice Sims reports, students are learning why Kwanzaa and other aspects of cultural heritage, are important parts of their education and daily lives.

Tarice Sims- At 8:30 on most weekday mornings, the students, teachers and mentors at Stewart Primary school in Akron gather in the gymnasium to get each day off to an enthusiastic start. The African drums are a reminder that this is a school based in the “Afrocentric” tradition. The schools guiding principals are the foundation for Holiday Kwanzaa these include Umoja which means unity, Ujimaa or collective work, and Kujichagulia or self-determination (I walk with good, I talk with good, I am good!).

There are a total of seven Kwanzaa principals. During the holiday each principal is celebrated individually over seven days. The other principals are Nia, which means Purpose; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Kuumba, or creativity; and Imani, which is faith. The school adds respect for your environment, respect for your elders and respect for yourself. Larry Johnson is the Principal of the Stewart Primary. He says he pushed to incorporate an Afrocentric theme in the educational process after watching African American children “struggle” in public schools.

Larry Johnson- I know that inherently our kids are as smart as any other kid and they’re not behavior wise, they don’t behave worse than other kids so education is failing us. So as I began to look at some alternatives, some strategy to help African American kids, I was lead straight to the Afrocentric concept because this is it. If this doesn’t work this is the last hope for our children.

TS- Johnson says the African-based structure puts the kids at the center of their education. He wanted to be able to present books, and music that reflect what he says is a segment of the population that has been ignored by many public schools.

LJ- Our motto is the Sankofuber, and the Sankofuber means you have to go back look back before you go forward. And these kids need to get their rich heritage. They need to understand they didn’t start as slaves, because in school you know, the first thing you see about black folks is them getting off the slave ships. We started in ancient history the original man and woman. And that, their our ancestors were kings and queens and princes and princesses. They need to know that.

TS- Inside the classrooms kids learn how holidays and culture are intertwined. Rita Rogers teaches her first grade class, that Kwanzaa wasn’t the only holiday with ties to Africa. Characteristics of Christmas can be traced to Africa as well.

Rita Rogers- Savon, did they have stockings in England like the children in Africa? We learned that the children in Africa hang stockings on their bed posts. And when they wake up in the morning they have treats in their stockings. That’s a custom in Africa that we use here in our country raise your hand if you’re going to have a stocking in your house - I already have a stocking ME TOO!

TS- Ironically, this African based holiday was created the United States and originally only celebrated here. Now it’s widespread. Jamari Marousi is one of the elders or volunteers at the school. He helps familiarize the kids with the concepts of Kwanzaa.

Jamari Marousi- There are many, well England I do know boast of the many celebrations of Kwanzaa that they hold there. So I have a friend that’s going to France he’s been told that it’s also held in France. So it is now a world wide thing.

TS- The message of the holiday has earned acceptance in many parts of the world, and according to elder Fred Johnson, the first participants of the celebration were not always sure that it would embraced.

Fred Johnson- I was there when they first started doing it in the late 60s, and there was about two or three people at that celebration and now you go to there celebration and it’s hundreds there so yes this is very special to us especially here in the school since this is our first Kwanzaa celebration in the school itself.

TS- Although Stewart Primary school is a new concept to northeast Ohio, school officials say community folks are looking forward to it’s first Kwanzaa celebration at the school. They say this is a chance for parents and children to come together as a true village. The festivities kicks off tonight in the school’s gym and run through January 1st. The holiday ceremonies will end with a chant that is also used to begin each day at Stewart primary.

Harambee, harambee, harambee…

Harambee means “lets get together and push!” In Cleveland, I’m Tarice Sims, 90.3 FM.

Additional Information

Information about local Kwanzaa celebrations.

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