Wallkill holds its first Kwanzaa celebration

By Nadine Cafaro
Posted 1/4/23

Town of Wallkill residents gathered together last week to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Kwanzaa with singing, dancing, storytelling, instruments and more.

The event, which was held at the Town …

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Wallkill holds its first Kwanzaa celebration

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Town of Wallkill residents gathered together last week to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Kwanzaa with singing, dancing, storytelling, instruments and more.

The event, which was held at the Town of Wallkill Community Center, was the first Kwanzaa celebration in the town. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a California State University professor and chairman. The cultural holiday celebrates family, culture and community over the course of seven days. Bishop James A. Rollins Sr., the founder and senior pastor of the Tabernacle Church led the celebration and gave a short synopsis of Kwanzaa’s history.

“The concept is rooted in the Black Freedom Movement and is committed to the achievement of liberation and social justice,” said Rollins.

Kwanzaa, which derives from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” consists of seven principles. These include Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (cooperative economics), Ujamaa (collective work and responsibility), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

“Kwanzaa focuses on seven essential principles known as the Nguzo Saba, which are each represented by one day of the seven day celebration,” Rollins explained.

Each principle included performances by different members of the crowd. Crowd member Monet Gray sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while saxophonist Khalif Bobatoon played music on his saxophone. Other performers included Zakea Myrie, Matthew Castillo, Yasmine Rahman, Mezetones, Elijah Rahman, Kay’elle Marie Randall, Candace Mezetin and Lucia Clinton.

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, so it is often celebrated on top of others, like Christmas or Hanukkah. Rollins explained that this year’s celebration comes during unprecedented crises.

“The COVID 19 pandemic continues its destructive path with deadly variances after three years. Democracy seems to be hanging by a thread and many industrialized nations, including our own economies are failing in the face of continuing conflict, war, famine, and even increased suffering,” Rollins stated, “A persistent continuation of environmental degradation, climate change, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, [and] destruction of species and specie’s habitats. Nevertheless, somebody say with me nevertheless, we are here to celebrate Kwanzaa and all its principles.”

In attendance were also some Town of Wallkill government officials, including Town Supervisor George Serrano, Councilman Mark Coyne, Councilman Eric Valentin, Councilman Neil Meyer and Councilman Eric Johnson. Serrano said a few words at the beginning of the event.

“I’m just finishing up my first year in office and I was asked ‘Why do we need to have this event?’ and ‘What is Kwanzaa?’ My answer was simple. The Town of Wallkill is a diverse community where minds need to be opened, and what better way to open the mind than to have a celebration of Kwanzaa where we learn about the seven principles of Kwanzaa,” said Serrano.

Rollins led the Juneteenth event earlier in the year and was ecstatic to help with a Kwanzaa celebration. Him, alongside the event’s entertainment provider Max Mezetin were given certificates of appreciation for their hard work.

On top of this, Serrano saluted Town of Wallkill Town employee Herb Dolson for building the Kwanzaa Kinara that is now located in town hall. Dolson built this by hand.

“I asked this young man a couple of weeks ago to see if he can do it all and he said, ‘No problem, I’ll get it done.” [Then] it was done. It’s beautiful for us to see in real time,” said Serrano.

Both Serrano and Rollins were hopeful to make this event annual.

“Welcome to the first and I think I can say safely, the first annual,” said Rollins. “because I’m confident that this is the start of something really, really nice.”

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