Hundreds filled the West Las Vegas Library theater and lined the walls Saturday afternoon to celebrate Kwanzaa, a weeklong holiday honoring African heritage and values.
At the front of the dark theater, beneath a line of soft spotlights, books about black figures and written by black authors lined the stage and two long tables. At the center of one table was a kinara, a wooden candle holder, with seven candles representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, faith and creativity.
“Today is the fifth day of Kwanzaa, the principle of purpose. A dedication of the collective vocation of building, developing and defending our community, its culture and history,” Dr. Claytee White said, commending the relationships she’s witnessed in the churches, schools, and community meeting spaces in West Las Vegas. “I’ve fallen in love with the community, and I think it’s time to do more.”
White, before introducing a group of young African-American women who would symbolically cross into womanhood in a series of yoga poses, called on attendees to “step up” to the principles of Kwanzaa, build more relationships, and commit to rebuilding the west side.
Keith Brantley, like many of the speakers Saturday, echoed White’s message and encouraged attendees to carry the principles of Kwanzaa with them throughout the year. Brantley, greeted the crowd with “hubari gani,” to which they replied in unison, “Nia,” or, “purpose.”
“Especially this time of year, during Kwanzaa, we see brothers and sisters greeting each other with hugs and handshakes and smiles,” Brantley said. “I have to wonder why it is that we’re not like that all the time.”
The celebration featured several dance performances by the West Las Vegas Arts Center Performance Ensemble, set to “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder and “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire; a powerful rendition of Daniel Beaty’s poem “Knock Knock;” and videos and speeches paying tribute to community members who died in the past year.
Attendees were greeted in the lobby by brightly patterned, hand-sewn pillows, painted wooden jewelry and masks, and colorful paintings of black influences, such as Tupac, J. Cole and Malcolm X.
Anthony Banks brought his three children to the celebration of Kwanzaa to remind them of their roots.
“I wanted to introduce them because we don’t celebrate it in the household for the full seven days, at least bring them to an event and I’ll keep learning about it and hopefully do it at home,” he said.
His son asked him during one speech what the word “ashe” meant. It had been used by an audience member as an affirmation of what the speaker was saying. “I don’t know an official definition, but it’s almost like saying ‘Amen’ or an agreement,” Banks explained.
His 12-year-old daughter, Heidia, said her favorite part of the performance was the dancing.
Banks said he strives to ensure his children get exposure to cultural events, including those in the black community.
“I love diversity. We go to all kinds of events, but I want to make sure they attend a black event,” Banks said. ”I’m not as focused on our culture as I should be, but to come to these events allows you to learn and be a part of the community.”
Origin of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a pan-African specialist, to help African Americans learn about and celebrate their heritage.
The notion of a specifically African-American holiday came to him when he realized the system of education in the United States has failed students, and the black community in particular, by denying them exposure to the history, culture, and traditions of people of color, according to Keith Brantley, one of the speakers said Saturday.