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In Kent County, Celebrating Kwanzaa Takes a Village

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Holiday traditions typically revolve around hunkering down at home with family. But for several Delawareans observing Kwanzaa in Kent County, an essential part of the seven-day celebration entails sharing rituals with community members of every creed and color.

The annual Kwanzaa celebration hosted by Dover’s Inner City Cultural League is a one-night honoring of African heritage in a community setting. It features recitations, music, dance and a potpourri of ethnic dishes. It’s an opportunity to “impress on the general public the importance of pride in the culture and history of the African America,” says Reuben Salters, ICCL founder.

Held in the ICCL’s studio, which accommodates about 140 people, the celebration is open to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis. “Last year we had to put out a sign that said we were overflowing,” Salters says.

The event usually begins with speakers explaining the seven principles of Kwanzaa and how attendees can incorporate them into their everyday lives. The principles include umoja (unity), ujima (collective work and responsibility), and imani (faith).

For ICCL board member John Moore, the community-centric celebration embodies the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. “It gives our children a sense of real unity, pride and purpose,” he says.

A highlight of the evening is the African-inspired drumming and dancing, performed by the Sankofa String Orchestra and Sankofa Dance Company. The latter, founded by Salters, is comprised of about 25 children who perform year-round at festivals and community events.

“It’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s very entertaining,” Salters says of the merriment, which in the past has prompted audience members to jump onto the stage alongside company members’ choreographed numbers. “If you ever go to an African dance and you’re not moved to dance, you shouldn’t be there,” he jokes.

The story-driven dances typically represent such themes as harvest, birth, death, marriage, weddings and community. Often the hands stretch to the sky, toward God, and to the ground, toward the sustenance provided by Mother Earth, Salters says. “They show off the human body.”

Watching the children perform each year “shows the beauty of what young people can do to really bring the culture back to who they are,” Moore says. “It gives you a sense of leaving Dover for just a while and [going] back to the soils of Africa.”

The celebration welcomes community members of every ethnicity and faith, which Moore believes promotes widespread appreciation and respect for diversity and inclusion.

“Regardless of our origins and histories,” he says, “at the end of the day, we’re all people.”

This year’s Inner City Cultural League Kwanzaa celebration will take place on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. 

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