Kwanzaa has had an impact on many in Baltimore's African-American community, including two women who've made it their business to educate others about the holiday.
Nzinga Ama began holding workshops on the history of Kwanzaa in 1981. She runs them through her business, Butterfly Creations. "I love the principles of Kwanzaa," says Ms. Ama, who is a professional storyteller; she is also a graduate student at Coppin State College and she runs Nommo, a hot line listing African cultural events. "And I saw a need."
And now interest is growing. Ms. Ama says that even though many young people haven't heard of Kwanzaa, she finds that more of them are interested in knowing about the holiday. "It's not just that they are interested in coming to community events; they are interested in bringing Kwanzaa into their homes."
She believes the growing interest in Kwanzaa is related to the ills affecting the African-American community.
"This pain is affecting not just poor people but middle-class people, upper-middle-class people, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. It affects us all," she says.
"I feel that when there is economic, social and cultural oppression, people look for something positive," she says, "something to heal."
For Sharron Jackson, interest in the holiday began 13 years ago, when she began receiving Kwanzaa cards. "That got me interested in learning more about it," Ms. Jackson says. She began reading about Kwanzaa and eventually attended a community Kwanzaa celebration.
Four years ago, Mrs. Jackson wrote a song about Kwanzaa that captured first place in a statewide songwriting contest sponsored by a radio station. The song, "The Gift of Kwanzaa," later placed third in the national contest.
After that, Mrs. Jackson tried to get record companies interested in the song but had no luck.
"Well, I teach the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and I live them," she says. "Self-determination" is one of the principles.
"After years and years of trials and tribulations, we finally opened our own [music recording] studio this year," says Mrs. Jackson, who celebrates Kwanzaa with her husband, Leonard, their son, Felipe, and her mother, Mary Wilson.
"The Gift of Kwanzaa" can be found in local stores featuring African and African-American culture and artifacts. Mrs. Jackson hopes her recording will encourage others to celebrate Kwanzaa.
For Mr. Jackson, it's a time to take a break from crowded schedules. "It's a celebration of family. A time we have together," he says.
The following businesses carry traditional Kwanzaa artifacts and can provide more information on Kwanzaa: Everyone's Place African Cultural Center, 1356 W. North Ave., (410) 728-0877; Out of Africa, 429 N. Eutaw St., (410) 752-5808; Asabi, 4610 York Road, (410) 323-2355.