Students celebrated UT’s first Kwanzaa Umoja dinner with a gift exchange, live performances, keynote speech and ceremonial lighting of the unity candle Thursday evening.
The dinner, hosted by Campus Events and Entertainment African American Culture, preceded the weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The event kicked off with a presentation about the holiday’s history, which psychology junior Nia Smith said is frequently misunderstood.
“(Kwanzaa) has nothing to do with religion,” Smith said. “A lot of people think that’s the case, but it isn’t. It’s a week to reflect on your year, seeing what you had at the beginning of the year that you don’t have now and how you changed as a person.”
Kwanzaa is a festival that honors African American heritage, government sophomore Devonne Hyde said. She said it is important to use Kwanzaa to gather members of the black community at UT since it’s so small.
“Usually when you celebrate Kwanzaa, you’re in the comfort of your home, but now we’re here at UT and we’re going through the same stuff, so it’s great for us to have that sense of community and togetherness,” Hyde said.
Brianna McBride, chair of the African American Culture committee and communication and leadership junior, said Kwanzaa is popular in the United States, but it hasn’t seen much exposure at UT.
“I think bringing (Kwanzaa) to campus can bring something different because I know there is no organization that really celebrates Kwanzaa or sheds any light on the celebration,” McBride said.
Kwanzaa traditionally displays seven symbols for each day of the festival that stand for values cherished by African American culture, according to University of Pennsylvania’s African Studies Center. Umoja, or unity symbol, emphasizes unity among communities and was the central focus of this year’s dinner.
McBride said focusing on unity within the University’s African American community helps them reflect on their accomplishments.
“Unity embodies what we’re trying to give off a sense of at this event,” said McBride. “Let’s come together at the end of the semester and celebrate all our accomplishments, things we’ve done, and have a good time.”
The dinner concluded with a ceremonial lighting of the unity candle.
“I think (the candle) physically embodies what it means to complete the seven principles,” McBride said. “Lighting the candle signifies us acknowledging that unity and coming together in different ways.”