By Isabel Shaw staff writer of The Current

“Remembering our ancestors, our history, all that we have contributed and done – this is what we are empowered to do,” said Gilda Rogers, executive director of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation & Cultural Center of Red Bank and an adjunct history professor at Brookdale.

“If we don’t celebrate and remember, it will all be erased, forgotten. Too often we have to come together in trauma, but something like Kwanzaa brings us together in celebration of all that has gone on before us, while learning what we can create and change right now, and then pass that on to the next generation.”

Rogers was among the group of Kwanzaa celebrants in the Student Life Center Dec. 7. Hosted by Brookdale’s Black Student Union, the event featured speakers, food, gifts, music, poetry and art.

Kenneth C. Grant, 19, a media studies major from Freehold and president of the Black Student Union, began the event by sharing the history and meaning of Kwanzaa.

“Kwanzaa is a beautiful holiday and a celebration of our ancestors. It is a time for reflection, community, and cultural pride.”

Grant explained that the holiday is celebrated with a candle-lighting ceremony where a candle is lit each day to represent each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The principles are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose) Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Families get together and discuss the meaning of the principles and how it can be applied to their lives. The celebration usually takes place From Dec. 26 through January, ending with a communal feast called Karamu, usually on the sixth day.

The word Kwanzaa is borrowed from the word kwanza, meaning “first” from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza. Taken from African harvest or first-fruits festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa, the holiday affirms and celebrates African family and social values.

Kelli Sanders, supervisor of conference services and adviser to the Black Student Union, shared that the Black Student Union is one of Brookdale’s oldest continuous running clubs.

“I enjoy working with the club members because it helps me grow,” said Sanders. “I get to see and be a part of the change and growth of the students as they explore and learn what is important to them.”

Koran Hogan, 19, a psychology major from Union shared his memories of Kwanzaa celebrations growing up. “My mom introduced me to the holiday, and I love how it celebrates black unity and pride.”

In describing the Black Student Union Hogan said, “This is a beautiful club. These members are my brothers and sisters. Everybody is welcome, and everyone comes together and works well together.

Poems by Birago Diopano and Maya Angelou were read. An array of delicious entrees and desserts were served and eaten on tables elegantly decorated with colorful African themed centerpieces. The use of the provided art supplies was encouraged as part of the celebration, and a basket of take-home goodie bags were given to all participants.

A moving rendition of the Roberta Flack song, The First Time Ever I saw Your Face, performed by club adviser Sanders, left the celebrants stunned by its beauty. The poem “Human Family” by Maya Angelou that was read earlier, captures the power of this event with these last two lines:

“In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.”

For more information or to join Brookdale’s Black Student Union:
Kelli Sanders 732-224-2774
Nancy Kegelman 732-224-2221
Email: Black Student Union