The Hamilton Hill Arts Center pioneered the celebration of Kwanzaa in the Capital Region in the late 60’s.  Having been founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, the celebration was new to everyone.  Interest in it grew over the years and the center held it in larger and larger venues.  It was eventually moved to the NYS Museum in Albany.  Until 4 years ago, the public celebration organized by the Hamilton Hill Arts Center was a one-day event.  But Aaron Carter, who for many years helped plan the celebrations at the Museum, envisioned a 7-day observance, as Dr. Karenga originally planned it.  4 years ago, several organizations, including the Arts Center, came together to form the Capital Region Kwanzaa Coalition to plan 7-day celebrations of Kwanzaa. 

This year, as in the past, the biggest Celebration occurred at the NYS Museum on December 26, followed by one at Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church In Schenectady on the 27, and then at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center on the 28th.  The celebrations continued at the African American Cultural Center in Albany, the Albany Barn, and the Albany Charter School. Each celebration focused on one of seven principles that form the Nguzo Saba – the seven principles that can guide us to better lives.

The Celebration at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center occurred on the third day of Kwanzaa, which honors the principle of Ujima, collective work and responsibility.  Organized by Miki Conn, volunteer and founding member of the Kwanzaa coalition, the program began with Jessica Hunter speaking on “What is Kwanzaa and why do we celebrate it”, followed by candlelighting by  Kwesi, Sanaa and Nailah Etienne, grandchildren of Center Director, Omoye Cooper.  Imara James, aged 16, is the great granddaughter of Dr. James Cunningham, who passed away last February and was one of the founders of the Hamilton Hill Arts Cente. She spoke about the way that her great grandfather’s life demonstrated the principle of Ujima.  Tariq Adams, a student at Schenectady High School, spoke about the way his family worked together to take care of and support each other, as an example of Ujima.  There were performances by Zorkie Nelson, long-time drum instructor for the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, Crescente, an Afro-Cuban influence band, headed by Joel Stewart, a solo by Betty Harper, member of the Kwanzaa coalition, and singer, and poetry by several poets, including Clifford Johnson


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