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Uniondale Kwanzaa celebration emphasizes education, unity

Students from Venettes Cultural Workshop perform traditional African

Students from Venettes Cultural Workshop perform traditional African dances at the Long Island Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women's Kwanzaa celebration in Uniondale. (Dec. 11, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

Standing on stage at the Uniondale Public Library Wednesday night, Carolyn D. Brown lifted a gold chalice in the air and tipped it over four times, once each to the north, south, east and west. The symbolic gesture, meant to pay homage to African ancestors, was part of the annual Kwanzaa celebration hosted by the Long Island chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Speaking to the crowd gathered inside the library’s auditorium in Uniondale, Brown explained that Kwanzaa, which is observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, was created in 1966 to “celebrate and honor the values of ancient African cultures and to inspire African-Americans who are working for progress.”

NCBW has been holding its Kwanzaa celebration in different communities throughout Long Island for more than 20 years, said Wilma Holmes Tootle, the chapter’s president.

In keeping with this year’s theme, “It Takes a Village to Educate a Child,” attendees were encouraged to bring school supplies to donate to Millennium Sistahs in Uniondale and the Gerald Ryan Outreach Center in Wyandanch. The program featured African dance performances by the young students of the Venettes Cultural Workshop and the Uniondale High School show choir sang “Hallelujah.” A mix of local officials including Rhonda Taylor, assistant superintendent of the Uniondale School District, Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams, the school district’s board, PTA and business leaders, were also invited to light the seven Kwanzaa candles and reflect on each corresponding principle.

Addressing the principle “Kujichagulia,” which means “self-determination,” Taylor told the young people in attendance: “No matter how many tell you, ‘You cannot have a seat at the table,’ you will remind them that you will sit at the head of the table.”

Then, speaking of the seventh principle, “Imani,” or “faith,” Renee Flagler, an author and member of the Uniondale Parent-Teacher Association, instructed the youth to “dream big.”

“You don’t need anything in front of you that tells you that it can happen, because if you can believe it, you can conceive,” she said.

Tootle, 64, a Freeport resident and retired teacher, said this year’s theme was selected in reaction to all the discussion and uproar over the current state of education including the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards and increased focus on testing.

“We wanted to uphold the value of education,” she said. “I hope those who came took away the message that in unity there is strength. We have to work collectively.”

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