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Kwanzaa celebrations move outdoors and online in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives

Kwanzaa is a holiday typical celebrated in community, but the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many groups to take their events outside or virtual. George Bayard, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAMMA), has partnered with organizations in the city to keep celebrations afloat.

“One of the things we found out about having a physical Kwanzaa last year is that there were three to four different groups in the community having Kwanzaa at different times, different places… So actually virtual Kwanzaa gives us a central location,” Bayard said, “We (GRAMMA) took the first day, that’s the first day of unity, and then Delta Sigma Theta Sorority took the second day. Then different people in the community took each others,” Bayard said.

The seven-day holiday, which runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, celebrates the different principles of Nguzo Saba each day:

Dec. 26: Umoja (Unity)

Dec. 27 – Kujichagulia (Self Determination)

Dec. 28 – Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Dec. 29 – Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Dec. 30 – Nia (Purpose)

Dec. 31 - Kuumba (Creativity)

Jan. 1 – Imani (Faith)

Bayard said a collection of groups got together this year for a city-wide observance. Each participating organizations were designated a day to host. On Thursday at 6pm, West Michigan Jewels of Africa held a “Kwanzaa Soul Stroll” for Black-owned businesses in midtown Grand Rapids. Bayard told WGVU Grand Rapids-based multicultural bookstore We Are LIT also handed out gift certificates to youth throughout the week.

Sponsors of this year’s festivities included GRAMMA, Grand Rapids Kwanzaa 365,  Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Black Impact Collaborative, The DNA and the Michigan Black Expo.

“It (Kwanzaa) is made specifically for the African American community, with all the roots of it in Africa. Kwanzaa means first fruits of the harvest. Late winter here is harvest time in Africa, and people would gather around to do the harvest. In that in gathering of people, that’s where Kwanzaa really got its roots,” Bayard said.

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. It is not a religious holiday and is not commercialized like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, instead Bayard said the celebration is about people, ancestors and humanity.

“That’s what you celebrate all day long. You talk about it. You reinforce the meaning of purpose, and put that into your everyday life,” he said.

To get involved in this year's Kwanzaa's celebrations, click here.