On one side of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center lobby, there is a Christmas tree covered in lights and ornaments. On a desk facing the tree, there is a Kinara, a candle holder with seven candles, each representing a different principle celebrated during Kwanzaa. On Wednesday, four of the candles were lit.
Another candle is lit during each day of the Neal-Marshall Study Breaks: Kwanzaa Celebration. The celebration, which takes place from noon to 2 p.m. every day, started Monday and lasts until Friday.
“It allows for students to come and congregate together and enjoy each other and the meaning of the holiday,” Cross-Harris said. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate African heritage.”
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 with the goal of uniting the African-American community, building stronger families and strengthening the community’s self image through links to strong African role models.
Each day lunch is served and there is a theme, including Books and Bagels and Soup and Study. The Study Breaks help students understand the purpose of the holiday, Cross-Harris said.
“Every time the kids come up, they’re reminded of the principles,” Cross-Harris said.
Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas, and some of the principles celebrated include unity, purpose, faith and collective work and responsibility. It’s a culture-based holiday, said Tislam Swift, a graduate assistant at Neal-Marshall. The event promotes community and supporting others, Swift said.
Swift said the event also gives students the opportunity to identify with a holiday that is not Christmas and exposes them to something they might not be aware of.
“On the campus where Christmas has been commercialized, it’s important for students to identify with that,” Swift said. “It’s not every day that you come to a campus where Kwanzaa is celebrated.”
Swift attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically black college, before coming to IU. He said he started celebrating Kwanzaa while he was there.
“As a person of African-American descent, it helps remind me of what my ancestors have gone through,” Swift said.
This is the first year the Study Breaks have served as a Kwanzaa celebration. Monica Johnson, who became the director of Neal-Marshall in March, started the celebration. Cross-Harris said Johnson has been a breath of fresh air for the center.
“She loves it, and it starts from the top with her and trickles down,” Cross-Harris said.
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