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Jacksonville Volunteers Celebrate Kwanzaa With A Little Elbow Grease

Lindsey Kilbride
Ritz Museum archivist Yuwnus asami (left) and a volunteer paint the museum’s walls Thursday.";

Events are scheduled all week in Jacksonville to celebrate the seven days and principles of Kwanzaa. On Thursday volunteers observed Kwanzaa’s third principle, Ujima, at the Ritz Theatre and Museum.

The event was set up by Vanessa Davis, executive director of the Jacksonville nonprofit African Village International, which puts on African-centric events and organizes community service.

She said she’s been noticing an uptick in the number of Northeast Florida residents interested in Kwanzaa, and Tuesday's event was standing room only.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Volunteers help paint the Ritz museum to celebrate Kwanzaa.

“This year in particular there’s a lot of people looking for information or how do they start their own Kwanzaa celebration or how do they celebrate Kwanzaa at their home,” she said.

Davis has been celebrating Kwanzaa her whole life.

“[Kwanzaa] is really not a religious celebration,” she said. “It’s more akin to a Thanksgiving, a harvest celebration.”

Kwanzaa was created in 1966. The word comes from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.”

“The seven principles that go along with Kwanzaa are some things that you can take throughout the year,” Davis said.

The daily principles are:

  • Dec. 26: Umoja (Unity)
  • Dec. 27: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Dec. 28: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Dec 29: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Dec. 30: Nia (Purpose)
  • Dec. 31 Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Jan. 1: Imani (Faith)

Davis said how the principles are celebrated is up to each person. For her, Thursday’s principle of collective work and responsibility meant volunteering.
That’s why people gathered at the Ritz to help paint the walls before a new exhibit by local African-American artists opens in February. Davis said the indoor event was Plan B due to rain.

Among the volunteers were several teenagers, including 15-year-old Sloane Collier, who came with her grandma.

“My family, we actually celebrate Kwanzaa, so this is not new,” she said, “but it’s fun to hang out and do this stuff.”

It also doesn’t hurt she can earn some required community service hours for school, she said.  Collier said her favorite day of Kwanzaa is the first : Umoja, or unity.

“[It’s about] coming together as a community or family, organization, just celebrating what our cultures do,” Collier said.

Davis said the turnout for the annual unity event has been doubling in yearly turnout for the past few years.

On Friday the Ritz will host day four’s celebration, Ujamaa (meaning cooperative economics), with a pop-up market of local, small businesses. In addition to shopping, the event will offer live entertainment like spoken-word artists and DIY workshops on topics like jewelry making.  

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.