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Week of BSU's Kwanzaa Activities Called Successful

By Nicole A. Sherry
Staff Reporter

Leaders of the Black Students' Union called last week's Kwanzaa activities a success for drawing together members of all ethnic groups from MIT and outside communities to celebrate black culture.

The Kwanzaa week was first celebrated in America in 1966. "It was started as a way for African people to celebrate their heritage here in the United States and tie it back to Africa," said Rondell L. Milton '93, who co-chaired the week's activities.

The Kwanzaa activities at MIT have enjoyed rising popularity over the past four years. Average attendance at this week's activities was between 30 to 40 people, with more and more people coming each day, organizers said.

However, the organizers said they did not judge the week's success by the attendance numbers. "If only a few people come and everybody benefits, then we consider it a success," said Malik A. King '95, a member of the executive board of the BSU.

"It is sort of a family celebration. A small group was fine and a large group was fine as well," Milton said.

Although the majority of those attending the Kwanzaa celebration were members of MIT's black community, the organizers encouraged members of other ethnic groups and people from outside MIT to take part, and said they will work to do so again next year.

"It is very interesting and a good learning experience for everyone," said Milton. "It was open to anyone. We [the BSU] just happened to be hosting it and putting it together."

An event each day

The activities ran for seven days, and each day was guided by a different principle expressed by a word in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. At the start of each day's activities, celebrants performed a traditional ceremony, which was followed by a dinner, usually catered by a black-owned restaurant. The day's event followed.

The theme on the first day was umoja, or unity, and participants gathered in a circle and shared personal experiences. On the second day, which focused on kugi-shagulia, or self-determination, black poets and writers read their works to the group. People from MIT and Cambridge spoke about volunteer opportunities in the area on the third day, which celebrated ujima, or collective work and responsibility.

On the fourth day, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Cardinal Warde and an MIT alumnus each spoke about their experiences with starting a business to celebrate ujamaa, or cooperative economics. The fifth day, reserved for nia, or purpose, was marked by a percussion jam session.

The sixth day drew the largest crowd, which came to to celebrate kuumba, or creativity. Performances included a South African boot dance by two MIT students, a production by Movements in Time, an MIT-based modern African jazz group, and another by DIVA, a singing group from Boston. The week closed out with imai, or faith, observed through a discussion about community empowerment that was heavily attended by people from outside the MIT community.

King said the community projects begun during Kwanzwaa week will have long-lasting effects. "People are working on things now that they wouldn't have been doing before," he said.

According to King, next year the BSU will try to bring in people from outside MIT to help plan the activities.