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‘It is food for the soul’: Kwanzaa celebrated in Grand Rapids

Posted at 7:13 PM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 20:14:26-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jewellynne Richardson loves the Kwanzaa holiday.

She’s from Grand Rapids but lived in Atlanta for over a decade a few years ago. There, she learned about African dance and drumming, and everything about Kwanzaa.

“It’s Kwanzaa. It’s Kwanzaa. Let’s celebrate. Let’s Celebrate,” she sang as she hit the shekere, a beloved African drum made from a gourd. 

She said Africans were known for not wasting anything. So making instruments out of shells, beads and different foods was normal. It’s one of the things she appreciated most about her African history and culture.

“Day three, it’s Kwanzaa. We say, ‘C’mon, let’s celebrate.’ It’s about collective work and responsibility,” said Mama Jewel, as everyone calls her. “That’s about all of us coming together, doing what we need to do, being united, being self-determined, refining ourselves, loving ourselves and guess what collectively it passing down to the next generation.”

Kwanzaa, which means first fruits in Swahili, is a celebration of African American and pan-African culture and life, she said. It was created back in 1966 by activist Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga.

She said each day represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity (day 1, umoja) , self-determination (day 2, kujichagulia), work and responsibility (day 3, ujima), cooperative economics (day 4, ujamaa), purpose (day 5, nia), creativity (day 6, kuumba), and faith (day 7, imani).

Each day, a red, black or green candle is lit in honor of the principles.

“The red is for the blood that people shed. The black is for the many shades of the beautiful Black people and the contributions brought to this world. And green, green is for the land. The land that we were made from and the land that is our Mother Land,” Mama Jewel said during an interview with FOX 17 on Tuesday afternoon. “So, it’s about building that connection and that bond, and celebrating it with pride.”

Mama Jewel has a Kwanzaa display set up proudly at her store, One Stop Culture Shop. She sells African and African American clothes, products and other items. She also styles hair and educates others on Black hair care.

“Mama Jewel, she brings everything that she needs to bring to you. Mama Jewel’s a cultural ambassador,” she said. “You come here. You can shop. You can get all your cultural needs: mind, body, spirit and soul all in one stop. So, we can bless you and educate you on hair, holidays, love, economics and more.”

This week, she and the West Michigan Jewels of Africa group have been ambassadors in education, kicking off Kwanzaa festivities with an African drumming concert on Sunday. Then, on Wednesday, she’s hosting a Soul Stroll, where residents are invited to stroll through the Black-owned businesses on the southeast side of town. Then on Friday is the Karamu feast, a dinner in honor of Black culture and food.

All events, she said, are open to the public. However, she ultimately hopes that people will embrace the holiday just as she has.

“It’s not exclusive. It’s inclusive,” Mama Jewel said. “You adapt the seven principles, through the colors and the lighting of the candles nightly, get these seven principles — the Nguzo Saba, as we call it — and you put it in your everyday life and live by it. It is food for the soul.”

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