KWANZAA CELEBRATES IDENTITY
CHILDREN DISCOVER ETHNIC VALUES AND HERITAGE ON FARM
By CARRIE FERGUSON
SUMMERTOWN, Tenn.--They wiggled in their seats, talking among themselves, snickering about the Swahili words they couldn't pronounce.
At first, some of them in this group of adolescent boys didn't seem to be paying attention to the easy-going lecture. But when they were asked to repeat the words, the Swahili words describing the seven principles of Kwanzaa, their voices came together to say: Umoja, Kujichagalia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani.
They gave themselves a round of applause. And then, cultural lesson learned, the city kids headed for the fields of The Farm, the commune in the country that opened its doors to them last week for two days of games, craft-making, horse-back riding and just plain, old kicking around.
"I know it is important to learn about Kwanzaa because it is teaching me about my heritage," said Robert Woods, a teen-ager from Nashville and a member of the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill, a group for residents of the Edgehill Homes.
Woods and his buddy, Antonio Baker, were joined by 35 other children from Nashville housing developments and homeless shelters to participate in The Farm's 11-year-old Kids to the Country program. The children were of all ages and races. Some of them had been to The Farm before for a week of summertime canoeing, swimming and gardening.
This trip, just a few days before the Dec. 26 start of Kwanzaa, was the chance to offer inner-city children a good dose of culture and a hearty dose of country air.
Gwynelle Dismukes, who wrote a book about Kwanzaa, led the children in a history lesson and taught them the symbols and words of the African-American holiday. Nigerian musician--and now Nashville resident --O.J. Ekemode and dancer LaToya Gill-EI led the children in a heart-pounding drum and dance sesslon.
"I'm trying to teach African culture as a way of getting them interested in gaining positive affirmation of their identity," Dismukes said. "And even for the kids who are not African-American, it's important they learn about their friends' culture."
From the Swahili word meaning "First Fruits," Kwanzaa celebrations began in the 1960s to affirm the identity of African-Americans and celebrate their ethnic values. The celebration lasts until Sunday.
"We brought the kids out because we want them to learn about things they might not learn about in the city," said Brian Morrow of Organized Neighbors of Edgehill. "And so they can eat healthy, too, because some of them don't eat healthy at home."
Outside The Farm's community center, where the celebration was held, the children ran around, played on the swings and the merry-go-round. Some of them lined up to ride the horses, Gypsy and Jack.
Woods and Baker, taking a break from throwing a ball around, looked around the expanse of land and marveled at the grey winter peace.
"I do like it here," Woods said. "I wish I could live here. It is so quiet."
"Yeah," Baker said. "No violence."
Editor's note: 1994 marked the first year that we could include an overnight winter program--thanks to the dorm accomodations at the Ecovillage Training Center, and the children were all able to spend half of a day making creative gifts for friends and relatives. It is a premise of the Kids to the Country/Plenty/EVTC winter program that underprivileged children get more out of charitable GIVING at Christmas than from typical charitable programs (i.e. Toys for Tots, Radio talk show drives, etc) which involve only RECEIVING.
Our summer program includes two 10-day "camps" with horseback riding, swimming, river canoeing, and hikes. If you would like to contribute to this program for underprivileged inner-city children, please contact us.
Kids to the Country
PO Box 394
Summertown TN 38483