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Kwanzaa celebration held at Hempstead's African American Museum

Jeffrey Young, 13, a drummer with Layla Dance

Jeffrey Young, 13, a drummer with Layla Dance and Drum based in Valley Stream, performs during a Kwanzaa celebration at the African American Museum in Hempstead on Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Shaneekua Henry grew up celebrating Kwanzaa and decided this year to pass the tradition on to her children.

"I was going to start having them celebrate Kwanzaa just so they know about their culture," the Baldwin resident said.

Henry, 40, was among more than 100 people who attended a two-hour Kwanzaa celebration Saturday at the African American Museum of Nassau County.

The free event in Hempstead featured African dancing and drumming, prayers, the lighting of Kwanzaa candles, and a reception with refreshments.

"It was cool," said Henry's 7-year-old son, Chad, who was with his sisters, Breanna, 9, and Anaya, 10, and their grandmother Sandra Bent, 62, of West Hempstead.

Asked afterward if she learned anything from the program, Breanna replied, "You should always have self-esteem."

Kwanzaa -- "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili -- is based on ancient African customs and honors that heritage. The seven-day African-American and Pan-African holiday, observed Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 each year, was created in 1966 by an African Studies professor in California, Maulana Karenga.

The holiday is built on seven principles: umoja (unity); kujichagulia (self-determination); ujima (collective work and responsibility); ujamaa (cooperative economics); nia (purpose); kuumba (creativity); and imani (faith).

Yesterday's celebration was hosted by the African-Atlantic Genealogical Society. The museum has celebrated the holiday for the past 30 years.

Jermaine Archer, 39, of Deer Park, came with his 7-year-old daughter, Sanaya. He holds a doctorate in African-American history and teaches at the SUNY Old Westbury.

"It's important to be around celebrations like this that evoke themes of unity," Archer said.

Kwanzaa "takes us back to our roots," said Joysetta Pearse, the museum's executive director. The Freeport resident noted that many people who celebrate Christmas also embrace Kwanzaa.

"This is a place for us [African Americans] to feel comfortable, practice our traditions, speak freely and bond with each other," said Audrey Hadden of Hempstead, assistant director of programs at the museum.

"It's an important event because throughout the year you go to work and school and have to fit in with everybody else's culture," she said.

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