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Mission College Kwanzaa Ceremony Uplifts African-American Traditions

The ancient beat of African drums welcomed about 175 celebrants to Mission College’s pre-Kwanzaa ceremony on its Santa Clara campus Dec. 4. It was perhaps the largest campus gathering in 11 years for the annual celebration of African-American and Pan-African culture and heritage.

It was the first time both a Mission college president, President Daniel Peck, and a West Valley – Mission Community College District chancellor, Dr. Bradley J. Davis, had participated together in the ceremony.

“To have the president and the chancellor is historical. It’s an honor to the African-American community and African-diaspora students for them to be involved and actively participate in the Kwanzaa celebration,” said Dr. David Piper, college professor and ceremony lead organizer.

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“Their involvement signals to me that they’re invested in equity student services and change.”

Kwanzaa, founded in 1966 by American Dr. Maulana Karenga, is a week-long holiday observed by African-American families Dec. 26 – Jan. 1. Based on the time of first harvest in Africa, Kwanzaa encourages families to remember and honor their history.

Kwanzaa is a secular rather than a religious celebration and a time for family and friends to gather to celebrate their culture and commit to the well being of all.

Following the campus Kwanzaa tradition, the almost three-hour celebration opened with a procession of ceremony participants into the Hospitality Management building. The Claude Ferguson Drum and Dance group set the mood with drumming and dance.

Guided by emcee and faculty member Yolanda Coleman, students shared the history of African-Americans. They spoke of the hardships of slavery and exploitation and the ongoing struggle against racism.

Students led the ritual of candle lighting. Each of the seven candles represents a principle of African heritage: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Hospitality Management Department students prepared a buffet lunch free for all.

The ceremony concluded with a presentation by the Awon Ohun Omnira Choir (Voices of Freedom in the Yoruba language of West Africa). The singers presented old Yoruba songs honoring ancestors and praising the divine. Call and response songs depicted the voices of slaves in the fields calling out to one another.

The Oakland-based choir, accompanied by sacred African drums known as Bata, is part of the Freedom Omnira Institute.

“Kwanzaa is a great way for all cultures to come together and learn about African culture and contributions,” said Jason “Spidey” Ferguson, who performed a break dance.

Ferguson’s father heads the drum and dance group. His brother, Marcus Ferguson, who was home visiting from Germany, also drummed with the group.

Jason Ferguson grew up — and learned to dance — in Santa Clara and is a 1997 graduate of Santa Clara High School. His family traces its roots to West Africa.

“Doing this with my family is very positive. It’s great to be doing it in our hometown,” said Ferguson. “Santa Clara is underrated for the cool things that come out of it.”

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