Najwa Dance Corps performs at Kwanzaa Festival on Monday.

Willie Shaw summed it up.

“I love Kwanzaa,” Shaw told the audience at the Robert Crown Center on Monday afternoon.

“I’ve tried everything within my power to live the Kwanzaa principles,” said Shaw, a leader in the local NAACP branch, who was honored with a cultural excellence award at the Kwanzaa celebration.

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African and African-American principles, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Each night a candle is lit on a seven-branch kinara, to represent a different value.

The first-day observance at Crown included African music and dance, along with art of various types, food and booths with goods from Black-owned businesses.

Attendees at Kwanzaa Festival check out vendors’ tables.

One of those in attendance, Kiki McKinney Ramclam, said she “came to support the community on the first day of Kwanzaa.”

“We’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa in my family since the ’60s,” she said.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Black activist Maulanga Karenga, as a way to build African-American pride.

The seven principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Each principle is also stated in Swahili.

The Crown event provided several small-business owners with the chance to interact with potential customers.

Marilyn Ecford, of Magnificient Glamor Genius, had her jewelry on display.

An event with a big crowd, a few hundred over the afternoon, “is very important,” Ecford said.

“I get to put myself out there and meet different people.”

For Fuschia Winston, whose Anti-Racist Art Fair had to be canceled during the COVID pandemic, it was a chance to display a variety of artwork, some for sale, others for free.

The festival was also a chance to honor community leaders, such as Willie Shaw of the NAACP, and Jo Ann Avery of the Family Focus social services organization, both of whom received plaques from the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater.

Willie Shaw with award from Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater.

And for musical and dance organizations, it was a chance both to entertain and to educate.

Andrea Vinson, director of the Najwa Dance Corps, said the West African dance her group performed was something which, in Africa, was “for special occasions, and to honor the elders and story tellers who kept history alive.”

In other words, just like this Kwanzaa observation.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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