African interpretive dancing, inspiring poems and speeches were part of a Sunday Kwanzaa celebration in Brentwood aimed at teaching the historical relevance and importance of the African-rooted holiday.
“When we reflect about what’s happening in our society, we see a bit of a disconnect with our young people and our heritage,” State Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) said to a group of more than 130 at Brentwood Public Library.
He hosted the event with Suffolk County Community College.
Kwanzaa, which means “First Fruits of the Harvest” in Swahili, is a seven-day tribute to the cultural roots of those of African ancestry.
The holiday is built on seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. It is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.
A tan-colored kinara, which holds seven candles symbolizing each of the Kwanzaa principles, was also lit during the event.
“I came out to get the whole Kwanzaa experience,” said Bay Shore resident Bryel Wells, 21.
The same went for Derek Smith, 39, of Bellport, who brought his 9-year-old son.
“I don’t know much about it,” he said. “This is a learning experience to learn a little more about my heritage.”
Meanwhile, Bay Shore resident Dillion Brown, 29, said he attended to celebrate African pioneers.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” he said, quoting a famous saying by civil rights activist Marcus Garvey.
Huntington-based Tri Community and Youth Agency, a nonprofit that provides educational and social and cultural advocacy programs for young people, brought 15 children to the event.
“We wanted to expose them and educate them about their history,” said Christine Corcoran, a youth worker with the organization.
Ramos, who spoke several times during the three-hour gathering, said many minorities growing up in the 1960s faced discrimination and injustice, some of which persist today, but back then, they had a guiding light with the civil rights movement.
“Unfortunately, many of our young people can tell you the history and origin of a sneaker in a Nike store but are unable to tell you the origin of Kwanzaa and the struggle our people have gone through,” the assemblyman said.