By Mekialaya White

DENVER (CBS4) — Every year starting on Dec. 26, groups across Denver gather to re-ignite the spirit of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa, which celebrates African American culture, is based on the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza (“first fruits”).

The holiday is now in its 55th year, and that is monumental for Thedora Jackson. She beamed with pride as she sat down with CBS4’s Mekialaya White to discuss the anniversary on Monday afternoon.

(credit: CBS)

“Kwanzaa centers around a feast table of harvest. We want that togetherness, that solidarity in the community,” she started. As the Executive Director of the Kwanzaa Committee of Denver, she’s enjoyed many years of celebration. But her passion started in her hometown.

“To me, being raised in LA, and seeing what caused the Watts Riots and the damage it did, not only to property but to the mind of the people, it means a lot,” she continued.

She stands on the shoulders of many before her to continue the tradition of Kwanzaa, including Dr. Maulana Karenga, who created the holiday.

“It gives you purpose, it gives me purpose,” said Jackson.

For seven days, those who observe Kwanzaa focus on a variety of principles:

Umoja (Unity)
Kujichagulia (Self-determination)
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)
Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)
Nia (Purpose)
Kuumba (Creativity)
Imani (Faith)

Each night, as part of custom, a corresponding candle is lit on a holder, called a “kinara.”

(credit: CBS)

Jackson says, however, celebrations have dwindled with the pandemic. “We are trying to get that momentum back. We were doing it every year and people got used to it. When you stop totally, it’s hard. (People say) well, it is cold and we didn’t go last year so we can go next year.”

She’s set on turning that around. “It’s going to take me a while to get it back, but I will, no matter what.”

In doing so, she emphasizes that the public invited to all events. “It’s a Pan-African celebration, but we welcome everyone.”

To inquire about future events, Jackson encourages you to email her: thedora@earthlink.net.

Mekialaya White