COVID-19 has affected countless events this year and that includes Mission College’s annual Kwanzaa celebration. Rather than skip this year’s celebration, the school’s African American community decided to take it virtual. On the evening of Friday, Dec. 11, more than 70 people gathered for an online celebration.
“We recognize that the official traditional aspects of the Kwanzaa ceremony cannot be observed properly while in this format. We do not want to devalue or minimize the beauty of the ceremony. With that we ask our elders for permission to proceed in the best way we can in light of the circumstances,” said Mission College Counseling Faculty member Yolanda Barnes at the start of the celebration.
The group received permission to proceed from 77-year-old Gaila Moore, the eldest member in attendance. Barnes says that unfortunately some of the more festive aspects of the celebration like the interactive drumming and dancing could not take place virtually, but everyone involved wanted to make sure that honoring the ancestors was included.
“We felt it was important for us to acknowledge to everyone, especially our elders, that there were limitations to what we could do,” said Barnes. “We tried our best to not water down or minimize the value and beauty of the official ceremony.”
The virtual Kwanzaa event included smaller discussion groups about Kwanzaa’s seven principles and how we as a society could work harder to achieve those goals. Groups shared the results of their discussions and afterward, as is tradition, a candle was lit in honor of each of the seven principles.
Kwanzaa’s seven principles include: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).
Sociology Department Faculty Member Qiana Houston says the values of Kwanzaa are especially important this year.
“This year has been one that has challenged all of us. The nation as a whole could benefit from the practice of the seven principles [of Kwanzaa],” Houston told the group. “Now more than ever, individually, and as community, we need to understand the value and the necessity of these seven principles.”
At the end of the ceremony, participants took a moment to honor attendee Dr. David Piper of Mission College’s Psychology, Humanities and Counseling departments. Organizers say for more than 15 years, Dr. Piper has been instrumental in making sure that Mission College celebrate Kwanzaa.
While attendees could not be together this year to celebrate, the atmosphere at the event was no less festive. There were smiles and warm greetings as many attendees saw each other for the first time in a long while.
“The fact that so many people took that time to join yet another Zoom meeting meant the world to us,” said Barnes. “At a time when folks are experiencing so much fatigue, their attendance and feedback proved that there is a need for community connection, however we can get it.”