KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A holiday tradition dating back not centuries but decades has begun with the start of the seven days of Kwanzaa.
Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa isn't a religious holiday. Based on the year-end harvest festivals held in Africa for thousands of years, it's observed worldwide starting Friday by people of African descent.
Local observances include "Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: Willing the Well-Being of the World," organized by the Black Arts and Cultural Center in Kalamazoo. Events will be held at the Epic Center, Kalamazoo Mall and other locations.
"We are partnering with various organizations in the city to host Kwanzaa events at their locations throughout the week with special guest speakers and entertainment," center director Sid Ellis told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means "first fruits of harvest." The holiday was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, who is also executive director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
Participation in Kwanzaa has leveled off, according to Keith Mayes, an assistant professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota. Mayes estimates between 500,000 and 2 million people in the U.S. celebrate Kwanzaa, out of about 40 million Americans identified by the U.S. Census as black or multiracial.
Ellis said the numbers aren't as important as what people learn from Kwanzaa.
"Kwanzaa is an acknowledgment of the African culture and heritage, and something BACC wants to help share with the entire community," he said.