History of Kwanzaa Song San Jose Mercury News Kwanzaa Article on Kwanzaa Children


DECEMBER 28, 2006 ~ B Section Page 1





(left to right)

TOP: Sarah Gramajo, Melina Polk, Marcus Polk, Angela Hsu & Jebin Perumatty (Nick Ben)

BOTTOM: Heidi Cheung, Ace Payne, Kelly Olszewski, Zion Payne & Cierra Bivins

by Kim Vo

      Director Phillip E. Walker was searching for a suitable children’s program when he stumbled across a Kwanzaa musical. It fit the bill: smart, lyrical and able to keep kids busy during the winter break.

      But as his multiracial cast began singing about concepts like umoja - or unity - Walker was struck by the music’s and holiday’s deeper meaning.

      “When I hear it coming out of the these kids’ mouths, there were times at rehearsal I had to hold back tears,” said Walker, artistic director of the African American Drama Company. “I know that these kids will keep this and retain it in their lives. That’s revolutionary.”

      Walker’s gestures toward cultural revolution were on display Wednesday as children from The Third Theatre Troupe danced and sang at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. The nine children spilled out into the museum’s small auditorium, where the audience heard them sing:

      Umoja is unity, you and me

      Living forever in love and harmony - Unity.

      Both the performers and audience members reflected the Bay Area’s diversity, despite Kwanzaa’s roots in the African-American community. A California State University professor created the non-religious holiday in 1966, during the black power movement, to reaffirm African heritage.

      Kwanzaa celebrates family, community and culture. The name derives from a Swahili phrase for the “first fruits” of the harvest.

      From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, families light red, black and green candles and reflect on seven different themes: Umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

      Mary Bivins of Oakland began celebrating Kwanzaa this year, after her granddaughter Cierra joined the Kwanzaa musical and “took it to heart.” Though the holiday has been around for four decades, “it’s nothing [with which] we had grown up,” Bivins said.

KWANZAA | Holiday musical entertains, educate



      Now the family has been lighting candles nightly and plans to mark the celebration every year. It makes sense, coming right after Christmas, to continue the focus on family and community, she said.

      The musical is the extent of Kelly Olszewski’s Kwanzaa celebration. The San Jose teen admits her family was initially confused about the pale redhead’s involvement in a traditionally African-American holiday, but she felt the “morals and certain principles reach over to all races.”

      But it has special resonance for the black community, said Vince McCastle, who brought his 12 year old son, Martin, to Wednesday’s show. McCastle recently met his uncle and learned about the family’s Southern roots – the days spent working the plantations, the pithy, wise sayings. He sees a connection between that recent trip to Georgia and a Wednesday afternoon spent learning about Kwanzaa.

      “The base of it is always African culture,” he said, “and how it’s lived out in the times of slavery and how it’s still lived out without people being conscious of it.”


Contact Kim Vo at ko @Mercury News .com or (408) 920-5719


VIDEO CLIP: mercurynewsphoto.com/blog/2006/12/27/kwanzaa-celebration

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