In the time of COVID-19, Kwanzaa goes virtual

Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African heritage and culture, runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. There normally are plenty of in-person gatherings during the holiday, but this year, events are virtual, if they happen at all.

SHARE In the time of COVID-19, Kwanzaa goes virtual
A typically crowded Kwanzaa event at the DuSable Museum of. African American History in 2011.

A typically crowded Kwanzaa event at the DuSable Museum of. African American History in 2011. With COVID-19, such gatherings have been canceled this year, and events for the holiday, which celebrates African heritage and culture, have moved online.

Sun-Times file

In any other year, Kwanzaa events would be packed with performances and workshops.

But 2020 is not just any year, and this year’s Kwanzaa events will be virtual, if they are happening at all. The celebration started by Black Americans to celebrate African culture and heritage, starts Saturday, and runs through Jan. 1.

“Every year around Kwanzaa I see the same people in the city of Chicago and it’s like a family reunion every time,” said D’Sheadra Benford, a volunteer consultant with the Africa International House, a nonprofit organization that serves as a center to expose and educate people to the individual works and collective contributions of African cultures.

In solidarity, Benford says she and a group of close friends would go from one Kwanzaa event to the next to support them all. “It’s really us just trying to make sure that people have the opportunity to enjoy life and culture together,” she said.

Each day commemorates one of seven principles: unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. A different candle of the kinara is lit every day.

Ricky Rodgers lights a kinara at a Kwanzaa event in Aurora in 2004. Each flame represents one of seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Ricky Rodgers lights a kinara at a Kwanzaa event in Aurora in 2004. Each flame represents one of seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Sun-Times file

“Due to the Transatlantic slave trade, a lot of African Americans are looking for and want to celebrate their African culture, but may not be able to find an exact culture in the motherland to relate to, so Kwanzaa is a great segue into just celebrating African culture,” Benford said.

Ordinarily, Africa International House, 6200 S. Drexel Ave., hosts a two-day marketplace, with everything from academic programming to musical performances to political talks, Benford said. The main focus is on Black businesses, especially artisans offering handcrafted items.

The market meshes with Kwanzaa principles and usually is a huge success. Due to the pandemic, this year’s marketplace is virtual.

Even though the Africa International House marketplace is virtual and the fellowship of attending events with others is gone this year, Benford said there is a silver lining to it all.

“You don’t necessarily have to carve out a certain amount of time in your day. You can watch our programming and visit vendors 24 hours a day, once it’s posted,” Benford said. “This year’s event is in the books for posterity ... you will see it forever.”

DuSable Museum of African American History, in Washington Park, typically holds Kwanzaa programming annually but mentions none this year on its website. Museum representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

There are, however, other events planned in the Chicago area:

• African International House’s two-day marketplace went virtual via their website at the beginning of the month, with a merchandise store, downloadable coloring books, and business vendors.

• Malcolm X College hosts a virtual Kwanzaa celebration via Facebook at 11 a.m. Saturday. More details on the event’s Facebook page.

• The Universal Negro Improvement Association is hosting a virtual unity brunch at 11 a.m. Saturday to teach the principles of Kwanzaa. More details on the event’s Facebook page.

• Sisters on a Journey’s annual Kwanzaa gathering begins at 5 p.m. Saturday via Zoom. Registration details are on the event’s Facebook page.

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