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Celebrating Kwanzaa with art, music and dance at Oak Park library

A Dec. 30 event put on at the Oak Park Public Library set out to help people celebrate the best of both worlds in convergence of African heritage in African-American culture.

The program provided a space for the community to come together to showcase artists and performers.

Juanta Griffin, who coordinated the program, said this year’s event was shaping up to be a success. During the program, many of the speakers spoke to the fifth principle of Kwanzaa—Nia, or purpose.

“When we think about the direction, or trajectory, of African people inside of America, we can find that in Kwanzaa,” said Nubian Malik, one of the featured speakers. “Instead of watching ‘Empire’, we will be building empires.”

Malik noted the history of slavery and racism in the nation is long and far-reaching and said something has to give.

“We came here as Africans; we didn’t come here as African Americans,” Malik said. “The problem is we’re far too American than we are African. Everything that we have experienced, on this side of the shore, we have had to struggle for—even our own identity. When you embrace Kwanzaa and the seven principles, you embrace the best that Africa has to offer us.”

Plano resident Larry Horne said he’s glad he decided to drop in for the event.

“It’s fascinating seeing our culture and the way people are coming together in unity,” he said. “I look forward to practicing the principles of Kwanzaa for years to come with my family.”

This year’s program served as Horne’s first time participating in a celebration of Kwanzaa. He said the long commute to the Oak Park event was worth it. Horne said events of this type hold great significance, “especially, when people are enlightened.”

“We have the power to expand knowledge to the youth,” he said.

There was food, poetry and a quick history of the celebration of Kwanzaa.

Oak Park resident Mary Williams said she was motivated to drop in for the program.

“I was excited because I’m into black culture,” she said. “I’m an Oak Parker. I feel we don’t have enough programs of this type. I believe in celebrating Kwanzaa, and I look for every opportunity to celebrate it. I frequent the library often, and I am excited to celebrate Kwanzaa at my library.”

Williams sat enjoying fellowship with her family, as they tried the food. She said that celebrating Kwanzaa provides an opportunity for African-Americans to realize they have more control over their own narrative than they may realize.

“An event, like this, helps us become more aware,” she said. “There’s a need for events like this. As an Oak Park resident, you don’t see us a lot, but we’re here. … This is an opportunity to let us know how we can support similar type of events.”

Many people at the event donned attire inspired by their African heritage.

The community event was made possible thanks to the nonprofit organization Suburban Unity Alliance and the library’s More Than a Month initiative.

Griffin said the messages shared by speakers during the program were on point.

“I was glad people spoke freely,” she said. “It wasn’t water-down.”

Dozens packed the library to take part in this year’s celebration.

“There’s a need and a want for programs of this type,” Griffin said. “They’re not learning about this in school. As a community, we have to fill those gaps.”

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