Happy Kwanzaa

African American holiday celebrates culture and recognizes struggle of black people.


Islanders young and old gathered around the kinara at the First Baptist Church to celebrate Kwanzaa Saturday night.

It was a night to acknowledge the struggles of African American people, and recognize the accomplishments of African Americans in all aspects of culture and society.

But there were all types of people at the celebration, not just African Americans.

According to the first vice president of the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP, Carrie Tankard, Kwanzaa is a time for people of all races and beliefs to come together and cherish black culture.

“We want to teach people who might not know about African American culture and heritage as much as they want to learn,” Tankard said. “It’s important for the entire community to be involved.”

Tankard said Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga as a specifically African American holiday. The holiday runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, culminating in gift-giving and a feast of faith called Karamu Ya Imani.

Instead of falling in with the commercialism of other holidays, Tankard said, Kwanzaa is less about the material, and more about togetherness and teaching.

“This holiday gets people interested in the long and continuing struggle of African American people,” Tankard said. “It’s not an easy thing when your people have had everything taken from them, everything.”

According to Tankard, each candle in the kinara represents a different word of faith and power that symbolizes one tenet of Kwanzaa. There are seven candles, representing the seven days of Kwanzaa before the great feast.

When it was time to light candle No. 3, 10-year-old Rueben Ox stood up from his table and proceeded over to the kinara to do the reading for day three, Ujima.

“To make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and solve them together,” he read from a card describing the meaning of each candle and each word.

Although Rueben’s mother, Roisin, said her family is an interfaith Irish family, they enjoy coming to the Kwanzaa celebration to celebrate and learn about another culture.

“It’s important for everyone, especially young children, to be exposed to other perspectives and cultures. It’s a great thing to see how other people see,” Ox said.

The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red, and green. The black candle represents the people; the red represents their long struggle, and the green represents the future that comes from their struggle.

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday read the word of candle seven, Imani, the final candle in the kinara. This candle represents the principal of faith, and challenges people to believe in each other.

“May we believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle,” Hardy-Doubleday read.

After the seventh candle was lit, everyone sat down and enjoyed plentiful food and conversation.

Elaine Cashin said her mother celebrated Kwanzaa for a large part of her life, and that rubbed off on her. 

“She would dress up in her African outfit. She was a proud and strong woman who cherished her heritage and her history,” Cashin said. 

Cashin said Kwanzaaa is a time to be empowered and feel confident in one’s own abilities and unique talents. “Part of it is celebrating the individual, and part of it is celebrating the whole,” Cashin said.

Carmen Amadeo, who is on the board of directors for the M.V. African American Heritage Trail, said African Americans have historically had to struggle, and there is still much to accomplish.

“Although black people have benefited and advanced society in so many ways, there are still freedoms to be gained and advancements to be made; we still have a long road ahead,” Amadeo said.

For Craig Tankard, Kwanzaa is an exciting tradition that is a relatively new thing for African Americans. “Let’s remember this holiday was formed in the ’60s; it’s pretty recent,” Tankard said. “It’s a time to get together and focus on what really is a brand-new concept for African Americans, to have our own holiday.”

Kwanzaa is also a time for education and inspiration, Tankard said, especially for those who haven’t been exposed to heritages outside their own. “The more people can relate, the better. This isn’t an exclusive thing; we want everyone to be together as one and support each other in any way we can,” Tankard said.