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Local pioneers of Kwanzaa

By Stephanie Grayson


The day after Christmas usually marks the end of a busy season of being merry, spreading holiday cheer, and making precious memories with those we hold dear to our hearts. However, for many African-Americans, the day after Christmas marks the beginning of Kwanzaa, a seven day celebration of family, community, and culture.

This celebration is not new to our community. Since its beginning in 1966 in Los Angeles, Calif., Kwanzaa has been celebrated in Greenville for many years.  A group of visionaries, Mrs. Willie Mae Robinson, Mrs. Ruthaleen Powell and the late Mrs. Estelle Womack, can be credited for bringing the Kwanzaa festivities to our community.

These ladies were honored during this year’s ceremony on the evening of Dec. 26 at Dunbar Recreation Center.  Even though Mrs. Robinson was the only pioneer present, words of gratitude were expressed and a standing ovation was given for all three women for their efforts.

Mrs. Robinson, determined to keep the Kwanzaa celebration alive in our community, sought the assistance of Evangelist Carolyn Griffin to ensure the celebration would continue this year and the mission was accomplished.

Banners were hung bearing the names of each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Seven candles, one black, three red and three green which represented each principle, were placed in a wooden Kinara and displayed on a table adorned with red and black clothes.  The table was also set with the seven symbols of Kwanzaa: Mazao (Crops), Mkeka (Placemat),  Muhindi (Ear of Corn), Mishumma Saba (The Seven Candles), The Kinara (The Candleholder), Kikombe Cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) and Zawadi (Gifts).

Uplifting spiritual songs filled the room between short talks about how the principles were applicable to everyday life and in our community. Various literature was also displayed to help explain the significance and meaning of Kwanzaa celebrations and books were available for the children and youth to take home.

After the festivities, attendees had the opportunity enjoy light refreshments and to fellowship with Mrs. Robinson, who thanked everyone for attending the celebration.

If you happen to see Mrs. Robinson or Mrs. Powell around town, please thank them for their many contributions to our community.  Be sure to share the same gratitude with the family of the late Mrs. Womack.

All three women worked tirelessly in our community. On behalf of Evangelist Griffin, thank you to all who participated in and worked behind the scenes for this year’s Kwanzaa celebration. Greenville community, let’s not allow the vision of these pioneers to end.

Let’s vow to ensure that this celebration is observed in our city for many years to come. Happy New Year to all!

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