By Stephanie R. Jones
Women for Progress started the Kwanzaa season Monday with the lighting of the candles representing the seven principles of basic values of African culture. The event was held at the Smith-Robertson Museum, a sponsor along with the Greater Jackson Arts Council. Kwanzaa runs for seven days with events and observances held in the city every day. The first day Monday focused on the principle of Umoja, which is about unity of community.
“We are celebrating us as a people and our survival,” said C. Leigh McInnis, who presided over the program with Angela D. Stewart. Stewart said the African American community is treading through a lot of issues today. “We have celebrated 50 years of Kwanzaa,” she said. “We need to live by Kwanzaa principles every day.”
Primus Wheeler Jr., executive director of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, was the main speakers. Elizabeth Carr introduced the speaker, saying he represents that principle through his “pioneering spirit” and “dedication to anything he does.” The Medical Mall Foundation has spearheaded several projects to bring growth and prosperity to the area around the mall, bringing in housing developments and business expansion. The health clinics there, started by Dr. Aaron Shirley, whose influence Wheeler acknowledged, serve more than 100,000 patients a year.
Wheeler, who grew up in the Delta, said his father told him early on that he could either “get an education or you can stay and work in these cotton fields with us.” Wheeler said the choice was clear. Through the evening various people and lit candles one by one while explaining Kwanzaa’s Nguzo Saba, the seven principles – Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economic), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Speakers addressed issues such as education, which Women for Progress advocates, and support of each other in the community, especially businesses. “When we get bad service at a white-owned business, some just go to another white-owned business,” McInnis said. “When we get bad service at a black-owned business, we say ‘I’m not buying black anymore.’ “That’s self-hatred, something that needs to be overcome.” The event was capped off with food and fellowship.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 454-0372.