DENVER — Boots stomped the ground, hands smacked drums, and smiles filled faces Thursday morning at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver. 

Dec. 26 marks the first day of Kwanzaa. 

“Kwanzaa is a celebration specifically for African-Americans so that we can have some pride in our culture,” explained Jowana Norris, who helped organize the celebration. “We have to pass these stories down it’s so important. It’s the seed that dwindles, and blossoms, and grows.”

Jawana Norris
Mike Grady

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Kwanzaa was started by Maulana Karenga in 1966. Unlike other end-of-year holidays it is not directly a religious observance, but a cultural one. 

Practitioners observe seven principles over the seven night celebration. A candle on a Kinara is lit each day to recognize the principle:

  1. Umoja (Unity)
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  5. Nia (Purpose)
  6. Kuumba (Creativity)
  7. Imani (Faith)
Mike Grady

There are many other traditions that go along with the holiday. 

Libations are paid to ancestors. Elders and youngsters are recognized as the history and future of the culture. There are symbolic dances and stories, and objects are used to help people honor who they are and where they came from.

The celebration in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood was full of people young and old, black and white.

“This belongs to the world,” Norris said. “We are a multi-cultural universe, so anyone can pick these principles up and learn them, and have affirmations for yourself.” 

As she guided young people performing dances and gave explanations of the holiday, Norris said it's important to her to keep the tradition of Kwanzaa thriving in Denver. 

“I want my children, and the children of the world to be strong,” she said. “I want them to have all the virtues in the world that is going to keep them uplifted. Living their best life.”

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