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CMASS completes seven-week discussion series

Collegian File Photo

The Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) finished their seven-week discussion series on culture and leadership through the lens of Kwanzaa.

Each weekly discussion focused on a different principle of Kwanzaa, including Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani. On November 15, the seventh discussion of the series was held in the Malcolm X Cultural Center and focused on the principle of Imani, which means having faith in your community.

“The goal of the workshop was to experience the principle of community,” said DeRoy Gordon, a doctoral student in Afro-American studies and a supervisor for the CMASS discussion series.

“We tried to show, through the principles of Kwanzaa, how to build and sustain communities and create better leaders by fostering these skills.”

Over the seven weeks, Gordon reflected on those principles. While he wished that attendance had been higher, he felt that students who did attend “understood what was being said.”

“By emphasizing an inclusive, diverse, understanding community, we are continuing to build this discussion,” Gordon said, explaining the goals of the culture and leadership discussions.

As reported previously by  the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the preservation and creation of strong communities are critical to the principles of Kwanzaa.

Benjamin Barros, a sophomore chemistry major and leader of the culture and leadership discussions, noted that the discussions were not about forcing people to celebrate Kwanzaa but instead encouraging people to see the principles of Kwanzaa as elements of a healthy lifestyle.

“By incorporating these principles into their daily lives, people can apply them as they see fit,” Barros said. “It’s all about bringing your community together.”

Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce seven basic values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African American people as well as people of African lineage throughout the world. As reported by the Massachusetts Daily Collegian in 2009 by Jessica Bonheur,  Kwanzaa is derived from the traditional African harvest festival of Kwanza, and started in “1996 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga.” She states that instead of focusing on gift-giving, “Kwanzaa celebrates familial bonds and unity. Handmade gifts are often distributed within families.”

Gordon explained that in the event next year, he would hope to bring in this aspect of gift giving by having participants hand-make gifts and exchange them in the final discussion.

“That didn’t happen this year, but we’re always looking for ways to bring more students into our community on campus. So maybe next year, we’ll change up the format and try to introduce that meaningful tradition,” Gordon said.

Barros agreed, saying that gift-giving means a lot more when it is something handmade because it means that someone put effort into making it for you, rather than just buying it at the store.

CMASS plans to continue hosting community-building events throughout the rest of the semester and into the spring semester. Gordon noted that there is a hair-braiding competition happening in a few weeks and a community-building dinner during Black History Month in February.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at kesten@umass.edu.

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