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Canadian Kwanzaa Association uniting communities and bringing Kwanzaa into the mainstream

The end of the year is a busy time. From October to January, there are many observed festivities. Diwali, Dio De Los Muertos, Hanukkah, Christmas, Ōmisoka, and Kwanzaa.

Established in the 1960s, Kwanzaa found its way to Canada in the 1990s. Thanks to the Canadian Kwanzaa Association, 2019 was the first Kwanzaa week in Canada at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. The first time a municipality in Canada had recognized the practice. However, according to Dewitt Lee III, Founder of the Canadian Kwanzaa Association, since the Internet was only in its infancy, there isn’t much documentation you can find about the origins here.

“That’s one thing in our history we need, and we definitely need to do a better job at that so we can celebrate those who came before us.”

The non-denominational practice is represented with black, red, and green, a symbol of unity for people of African descent worldwide; black for the people, red for the noble blood that unites all people of African ancestry, and green for the rich land of Africa. The seven candles of Kwanzaa represent seven principles derived from Swahili; Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination, Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Dr. Maulana Karenga founded the seven-day holiday for the diaspora of Africans in America, says Lee, and can give an annual perspective on the seven principles of this harvest celebration.

“To have the founder and the source to continue to sow into what he feels is relevant in interpreting these ceremonies is an amazing honour. Although people are free to express themselves and celebrate in their own way, we always turn to the source and founder, Dr. Karenga, to give his annual perspective, and so every year is different.”

Lee adds that whether an individual has a Caribbean or African background, these communities and families bring a unique flavour and approach to Kwanzaa, but with unifying principles and elements and creating these united communities.

“Community has always been the lifeblood,” says Lee. “[Community] was not allowed when you go back to the time on plantations and being enslaved—not being able to congregate, not being able to come together. Those things were prohibited. It’s important to use this time to come together, our children to come together, for networking and building.”

That’s where the Canadian Kwanzaa Association can help, uniting communities and bringing Kwanzaa more into the mainstream of Canada and the world.

“To grow our footprint across Canada, to be able to have more municipalities supporting it, to be accessible to media outlets for those who would like information, and to add a Canadian contribution to it,” says Lee. ” That’s what I would like to see where other cities in other countries around the world, and say, ‘hey, this is what their doing in Canada, maybe we should incorporate that here.'”

Although local celebrations at the Canadian Kwanzaa Association have had to be held virtually, Lee has seen the positives with doors being opened thanks to the Internet. To celebrate with people across Canada and worldwide and is excited when in-person events can occur again.

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– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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