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.

Penn’s Kwanzaa celebrates ‘regrounding our purpose’

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Normally, you get gifts at the end of Kwanzaa,” said Brian Peterson, director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center. But as with most things, this year was a little different. A Dec. 9 event was hosted not in the Hall of Flags but in the ARCH building, and the communal meal had shifted to pre-boxed food. Nevertheless, it was a time to come together and foster a sense of community, he says.

Given past few semesters, it was vital to close out the year with this celebration, says Peterson. “Kwanzaa at Penn, celebrated for the past 30 years, is a moment to recognize the seven core principles—unity, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, self-determination, purpose, and faith—and to inspire students as they head into final exams. It also brings together faculty, staff, community partners, and alumni and allows Makuu to share a small gift and a meal, which for this year, was grab-and-go,” he says.

Chime Amaefuna, a junior from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, majoring in biology and minoring in Africana studies, was among those passing out gifts as co-chair of the Black Student League (BSL). “This has already exceeded my expectations,” Amaefuna said of this year’s Kwanzaa event.

Amaefuna’s main aspiration was a sense of unity. Because of remote learning, many first and second year students did not have a chance to meet upperclassmen, he said. “There’s a disconnect.”

BSL is trying to make some of these connections, Amaefuna said. “We want to create a safe space for Black underclassmen, create that space for them to be in Black community.”

The Kwanzaa gift offered this year was crewneck sweatshirts reading “Black Penn” in greyscale against a black background. The sweatshirts were first introduced in May during a BSL trip and have since became a coveted item, said BSL vice president Zaria Franklin, a senior from Atlanta majoring in psychology.

“Seeing ‘Black Penn’ is very empowering,” Amaefuna said. The sweatshirts will “get more people talking about the Black experience.”