Kwanzaa at Penn

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Kwanzaa, a cultural holiday celebrating the cultures of Africa and the African diaspora, is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. At Penn, a celebration was held in the ARCH building with a ceremony and feast, offering sustenance and support for students during the final stretch of their fall semester.

“What we hope this moment does for you is just energize, recharge,” said Brian Peterson, director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, urging students to “summon that sense of purpose” during finals.

Peterson advised students to stay focused and offered help. He said, “Life is challenging. If you’re having problems staying focused, come to this building. It’s quiet. Knock on my door. Let me know what you have to do,” Peterson said. “And I might ask you to check in on me.”

Charles “Chaz” Howard, University chaplain and vice president for social equity & community, gave a word of prayer and offered libations, a Kwanzaa tradition honoring forebearers. Members of the audience offered names of people who have died: James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Sadie T. M. Alexander among them. After each name, Howard poured out a measure of water, offering acknowledgement and thanks.


Chaz Howard poured out libations at Kawanzaa.

Student leaders from UMOJA then reviewed the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination, Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Noa, or purpose, Kuumba, or creativity; and Imani, or faith.

At the event’s close, Peterson urged students to offer support and to take care of one another. “Let’s remember we do control that,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but we do change the world.”

"What we hope this moment does for you is just energize, recharge," Peterson said.