By Liz Shayne
In a decades-long tradition, elementary and middle school students, teachers, families and alumni of The Schoolhouse in South Burlington kicked off the December holiday season with the school’s annual Kwanzaa ceremony.
The celebration marked the end of three weeks of study of African-American culture and individual traditions and values.
Kwanzaa is a contemporary, non-religious, African-American holiday that focuses on family, weaving in symbols rooted in African tradition. The holiday begins on Dec. 26 and is celebrated for seven days culminating in a feast or Karamu on Jan. 1.
As part of their study, students learned about the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa in both English and Swahili.
In the ceremony, they poured libations in honor of important African-American individuals. Max Olisky-Paul of Charlotte honored Thelonious Monk, representing the principles of Kumbaa (creativity) and Kujichagulia (self-determination). Isaac Helak of Shelburne honored Martin Luther King, Jr., describing his determination to stop segregation as an example of Kujichaguli. Mika Millard of Middlesex looked to Rosa Parks as an example of Nia (purpose).
Keeping with tradition, the youngest students lit the first candle of the Kinara, the Kwanzaa candelabra with seven candles representing each of the principles. Together they said: “Umoja means Unity.”
The other principles are Ujima (working together), Ujamaa (supporting each other) and Imani (faith, especially faith in ourselves).
The ceremony was punctuated by song, dance, and performance, including the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Students read and displayed original poetry works and the room was filled with a variety of works of art inspired by the holiday.
Geo DeBrosse of Hinesburg and James Kreider of New Haven closed out the ceremony by leading the crowd in repeating Harambay – “Let’s Pull Together” – in unison before heading off to a feast, the Karamu, for which each family brought a dish to share from their family tradition.
Liz Shayne is head of school at The Schoolhouse, a K-8th grade independent school and preschool in South Burlington. It will host observation mornings for interested families on the second and fourth Thursdays in January.