Youth rites imbue Kwanza principles

William Reese II and Sandra Chapman, two elders of Annapolis' black community, stood before a group of 30 young )) people last night to charge them with the responsibility of carrying on the gift of their history and culture.

It was the second day of Kwanza, a seven-day celebration and rededication to the principles that have sustained blacks in the United States.


More than 200 people gathered in the gymnasium of the Stanton Community Center as the youths marked the completion of the Rites of Passage program, a 16-week effort to teach them respect for their elders and themselves by learning the culture and history of Africa.

The program is funded through a grant from the Anne Arundel County Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs and is administered by the Planning Action Committees of Anne Arundel County, an umbrella of local neighborhood action committees dedicated to fighting drug abuse among the young. It serves mostly youth from the county's public housing projects.


"We expect and we charge you with carrying on all the principles you have learned in the past 16 weeks," Ms. Chapman told the dozen or so girls, ages 8 to early teens, garbed in African dress and gathered before her.

She urged them to learn about their ancestors and from where they came, because it will be a source of power for them.

"When you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate a nation," she said.

Mr. Reese told the boys, dressed in blue print shirts, that "a people without culture are a people without meaning. A people without culture are a people without substance. A people without culture are a people without identity, purpose and direction. A people without culture are a dead people.

"So I want you young brothers to grow up," he said. "I know you want to be great athletes. But I challenge you to get that education, along with being a great athlete. And I ask you always to be the best of whatever your endeavors are."

The Rites of Passage program is designed to pass on the essential elements that are at the heart of Kwanza. They are: Umoja, unity; Kujichagulia, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, economic goals that benefit the group; Nia, purpose, a reason for being; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith.

The Rites of Passage classes were held each Monday night at the Annapolis Gardens/Bowman Court Boys and Girls Club.

Mr. Reese said before the ceremony that a key element the youths are taught in the Rites of Passage is respect for their elders.


They are instructed to address women as "Mama," or mother, and men as "Baba," or father. They are taught African parables, such as "we are standing in the shadows of our ancestors. When you lose an elder, you lose a library," he said.

Program leaders give each boy and girl an African name and its meaning.

Dominique Scurry, 13 -- whose African name is "Afi," meaning "the creative one" -- said she most appreciated learning the songs and dances of Africa. "It's great, because you learn all these things about Africa that you didn't know before, so you can tell everybody what it's like," said the youngster from the Newtowne 20 project.