East Texans met at the Tyler Public Library Thursday evening to discuss ways their community could become more unified during the first day of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is a secular celebration of African American culture and heritage. Dr. Maulana Kerenge, an African American studies professor and scholar, founded it in the late 60s according to material printed by the Tyler African American Cultural Events Committee, which has hosted the celebration in Tyler for about 20 years.
The week-long celebration consists of seven principles, and each is given a day for discussion and reflection. Those principles include: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
The ceremony began with singing and lighting the first of seven candles on a holder to represent the seven principles. Other symbolic objects that represent the past, struggle and future of people of African descent surround the tabletop with the candles.
Kevin Hampton, of Tyler, said the word unity is thrown around a lot in churches, work and organizations, but being unified does not bean agreeing on every point.
“I think when the doctor wanted to add unity to (the seven principles) he wasn’t really talking about ageing on everything and every issue …” he said. “There are certain situations where we are unified and there are some others we don’t want to be unified.”
“Unity means different things in different situations, and we have to be unified for the common cause of man,” he said.
Jennifer Cobbins, of Tyler, said unity should begin in the home, and her family created a web page to share personal triumphs with one another across state lines.
“You start with a nucleus and get that right and good and then move out into the community…” she said. I suspect if we got that family unit together and we moved out, it would make a stronger and larger impact.”
Hampton said the public needs to get involved when they see political figures going against the common good of the people, such as the government shut down in October.
“We see someone so detrimental to society, and we don’t do anything,” he said. “Sometimes in our family we do the same thing. Instead of us speaking up and saying, ‘that’s not right,’ we say, ‘that’s not our problem.”
Hampton advocated voting and writing letters to public officials.
The Kwanzaa celebration will continue until Jan 1 at the Tyler Public Library, 201 South College Ave. Festivities begin at 7 p.m. nightly.