On the first day of Kwanzaa, a message for children

Dec. 27, 2012 @ 05:29 PM

The opening day of Kwanzaa, celebrated Wednesday at Hayti Heritage Center, came with a rousing message for parents to connect young people to their history.

“I’ve dedicated my life to the resurrection of the mind, soul and body of our youth,” said Shareef Hameed, who gave a lecture in St. Joseph’s Performance Hall. “We know our youth is in bad shape,” he said, and the path to a better life comes from connecting them with their history, their African origins.

Hameed showed a slide titled “This Is Not Our Culture,” which featured photos of rapper 2 Chainz, Nicki Minaj and other popular artists. “Young people, I want you to listen,” he said. He told parents gathered in the audience, “Don’t let your children listen to him [2 Chainz]” because of his music’s advocacy of drug use and violent behavior.

“Tell the truth, brother,” a woman from the audience told Hameed.

Hameed then contrasted those photos with examples of historical figures representing the richness of African and African-American history, figures he said young people should try to emulate. Among the personages were civil rights advocate Ida B. Wells, the pharaoh Akhenaten, and first lady Michelle Obama. Hameed also used slides to dispel the statements from historian Hugh Trevor-Roper that black people have no history, and scientist James Watson that black people are inferior because they fail IQ tests. He showed the audience slides with anthropological evidence that Africans were the first people. He also showed a slide of two young British twins of Nigerian origin who broke a world mathematics record. “Mr. Watson, I thought you said we couldn’t pass IQ tests!” Hameed said.

The he addressed the children in the audience: “This is you, because you guys are geniuses. … You can do it. There’s the proof.”

Hameed has a degree in criminal justice and is working on a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling. He is a substance abuse counselor, and is a history instructor at North Carolina Central University and a mentor in the school’s Rites of Passage Program.

Before Hameed spoke, Chuck Davis, director of the African American Dance Ensemble, opened the ceremony with an explanation of the first principle of Kwanzaa, Umoja or Unity. He asked the members of the audience to greet people they did not know, and performed the traditional blessing of the elders, people ages 55 and above.

Zayd Malik Shakur, a poet and musician, hosted the event, explaining the symbols of Kwanzaa. He asked the young people in the audience to raise their hands if they knew the names of the seven principles of the annual observance. “That’s 70 percent of you. Give yourselves a round of applause,” he said.

Kwanzaa continues through Jan. 1. Begun in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Africana Studies at California State University, the holiday is rooted in African celebrations of the harvest. Each day focuses on a separate word or principle: Unity (Umoja), Self-determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba) and Faith (Imani).

Each day of Kwanzaa, a different candle on the candle holder, or kinara, is lit to represent the seven principles. Other important symbols of the holiday are fruits and vegetables, the libation cup, and the straw or cloth place mat, representing connections to culture, history and tradition.

The celebration continues today at Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St. The doors open at 6 p.m., and the celebration begins at 7 p.m. The Collage Dance Company of Durham will perform at this event.

Durham Parks and Recreation will host its annual Kwanzaa celebration Sunday at the Holton Career and Resource Center, 401 N. Driver St. from noon to 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, the last day of Kwanzaa, Davis will lead a celebration from noon to 6 p.m. at the downtown Durham Armory.