CSI student Nia Reddick begins the Kwanzaa celebration with an explanation of the candle-lighting ceremony.

College of Staten Island students celebrated the rich history of Kwanzaa to a packed house in the Center for the Arts last week. Presented entirely by CSI students, the program was geared toward understanding the history of African ancestry and the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. Students from Port Richmond and Curtis high schools, along with CSI students, faculty, and staff, filled the Recital Hall to capacity with unbounded energy.

According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, and poetry reading, all of which made for an especially joyous day on campus.  The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. The Seven Principles include: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

During Kwanzaa, candles in a Kinara are lit every day for seven days of celebration. The black candle in the center, which symbolizes the people, is lit on the first day. To the left of the black candle are three red candles representing ancestral struggles. To the right of the black candle are three green candles which represent hope and the future.

During the event, Nia Reddick explained the candle-lighting ceremony that takes place over seven days, allowing families time together to discuss and reflect on the seven principles, called the Nguzo Saba in Swahili, which are the values of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing community among African Americans. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder) and one of the seven principles is discussed.

“The event is a testament to our students’ passion and dedication, and they have made the College so proud,” commented Debra Evans-Greene, Project Director of the Black Male Initiative at CSI. “My office and the Liberty Partnership Program both have College scholars working in area high schools mentoring and tutoring students to ensure they are college-ready, and today’s event is the natural progression of our commitment to our College and high school communities.”

Provost Dr. Fred Naider joins event MC Marlon Cadore onstage. The exchange of cultural principles and the symbolism of cultural similarity are woven throughout Kwanzaa.

The celebration at CSI included a traditional dance performance by Abidemi Komolafe, spoken word pieces by Marlon Cadore and Nia Reddick, and a vocal performance of “I Just Can’t Give Up Now” by Troy Weekes Jr., a participant of last year’s CSI’s Got Talent competition.

The event opened with an introduction of the students by Liberty Partnerships Director Shawn Landry, a welcome from Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. A. Ramona Brown, and opening remarks by Provost Dr. Fred Naider and President Dr. William J. Fritz, who commended the students on their accomplishments and performances.

The event was inspired by Dr. Brown, and organized and presented through partnership with the CSI Black Male Initiative, the Liberty Partnerships Program, the SEEK program, the Office of Student Life, and the College’s Dining Services.