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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

AAS plans Kwanzaa celebration

The holiday season is drawing near, and one student group is taking advantage of the holiday spirit to share its culture with people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds.

An upcoming celebration of Kwanzaa organized by the Afro-American Society will include student performances, a discussion and dinner. Set for Tuesday, the event will be Dartmouth's first large-scale commemoration of Kwanzaa, organizers said.

Based on African harvest celebrations, Kwanzaa stresses the principles of family, unity, community and responsibility, among others. It is not tied to any specific religion, but instead to African and African-American culture.

AAS members have celebrated Kwanzaa together for years, but the group's cultural chair, Amber Laws '03, said this year the society is emphasizing the importance of opening up the celebration to the whole Dartmouth community.

"We want people to break out of their comfort zones and expose themselves to new things," she said, adding, "The principles of Kwanzaa are for everyone. We can all learn from them."

Laws' hopes for this event reflect Dartmouth President James Wright's vision for the 2002-2003 academic year. In his convocation address in September, President Wright stressed diversity, urging students to "approach one another in the spirit of openness that will make new relationships possible."

While Laws said that the AAS was not directly influenced by Wright, it shares many of the goals he put forth. "We definitely see this as an opportunity for people to learn," she said.

Kristan Lockett '03, a member of the Afro-American Society's cultural committee, added that an interest in diversity was a major concern for the group and one of the leading reasons they decided to plan such a large event this year.

Dawn Hemphill, assistant dean of student life and advisor to black students, agreed. She pointed out that for many African American students on campus who do not celebrate Kwanzaa at home, this event will allow them to learn more about their own culture and discuss it with others.

According to Laws, the event will be an evening of "fellowship, history and reflecting on our ancestors." The discussion about Kwanzaa will address the seven principles promoted by this holiday, including unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Lockett added that the student performers -- which will include the Gospel Choir, spoken word artists and African dancers -- will each address these principles through their different modes of expression.

Founded by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa -- which means "first fruits" in Swahili -- was first celebrated in 1966. It is observed today by people from all over the world, of all religious backgrounds and traditionally takes place from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.