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Lansing Kwanzaa celebration emphasizes unity, purpose | Messages from the Mitten

nana maxine hankins cain
Megan Schellong
/
WKAR
Nana Maxine Hankins Cain sits in front of a prepared Kwanzaa table.

Each year, people come together to celebrate Kwanzaa at St. Stephens Community Church in Lansing.

The week-long holiday, started in 1966, commemorates African American unity and culture.

The church observed Kwanzaa virtually last year because of the pandemic and with recently rising COVID cases, it’ll be held online again.

Interview Highlights

On The Role of Unity During Kwanzaa

It's exciting because it's time for us, the African American community and other communities, the entire community, to come together and reflect. Reflect on our history, reflect on our culture, we need to reflect and honor the seven principles of Kwanzaa. And that first day is called Umoja. Umoja stands for unity. Things are so divisive, so divisive. So now we're trying to encourage people to unite because you know, united, we can get a lot of things accomplished. It isn’t a religious celebration, it’s a time for us to spiritually and culturally reflect on who we are.

On Why Purpose Is Her Favorite Principle of Kwanzaa

I want to leave the legacy that every individual counts, that everybody is invited to the table, that everybody has a voice, that everybody matters, that everyone is important. And there's nobody in this world that’s any better than you are any less than you are. I want that to be my legacy: to treat people fairly and with decency. And that all starts with your having respect and decency. for yourself. It all starts with self.

On What She Hopes Newcomers to Kwanzaa Will Take Away

I want them to take away the fact that everybody matters, that they are important that Kwanzaa is a community event, not just an African American event, it's a community event, and that they matter. I want them to realize how important it is for us to engage in Sankofa and that is we need to look back into our history and learn the lessons from the past.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: Each year, people come together to celebrate Kwanzaa at St. Stephens Community Church in Lansing.

It’s a week-long holiday commemorating African American unity and culture and it started in 1966.

The church observed Kwanzaa virtually last year because of the pandemic and with recently rising COVID cases, it’ll be held online again.

Nana Maxine Hankins Cain is the host of the celebration, and she joins me now.

Nana, thanks for being here.

Hankins Cain: thank you, Megan, for inviting us.

Schellong: So, this is a big year, the 55th anniversary of Kwanzaa being celebrated among the African American communities. How has this tradition helped create a sense of unity throughout time?

Hankins Cain: It's exciting. It's exciting because it's time for us, the African American community and other communities, the entire community, to come together and reflect.

Reflect on our history, reflect on our culture, we need to reflect and honor the seven principles of Kwanzaa. And that first day is called Umoja.

Umoja stands for unity. And in this day and time, all of us need to be unified.

Things are so divisive, so divisive.

So now we're trying to encourage people to unite because you know, united, we can get a lot of things accomplished. It isn’t a religious celebration, it’s a time for us to spiritually and culturally reflect on who we are.

Schellong: So, you mentioned Umoja, which is unity. Do you have a principle of Kwanzaa that means the most to you?

Hankins Cain: You know, life is short. And in my bathroom, there's a little wooden carving. And it says, “Enjoy life. There is plenty of time to be dead.” So what I'm saying is, while we are here on Earth, this brief, brief, brief, time period, what can we do to make this a better place in which to live?

How can we help those who are amongst the least of us? What can we do to make this a more equitable and just society? Why are we here?

I want to leave the legacy that every individual counts, that everybody is invited to the table, that everybody has a voice, that everybody matters, that everyone is important.

And there's nobody in this world that’s any better than you are any less than you are. I want that to be my legacy: to treat people fairly and with decency. And that all starts with your having respect and decency. for yourself. It all starts with self.

Schellong: Nana, Do you have a favorite Kwanzaa memory?

Hankins Cain: If I had to have a favorite one, it might be the one that we had last year. Because that one was the one that was most challenging. The other ones, the people come, you invite them the music is there, etc., etc. But I think the most memorable one is our first virtual one. Our son Asante came, helped sister Sasha, who's my co-host to do that.

It went off with no problems, no technology problems at all. Things were prerecorded, prerecorded. And I think that one was my favorite one.

Schellong: The pandemic is certainly a special time for us all, right? Last question, for people attending your Kwanzaa celebration for the very first time, what’s the number one thing that you want newcomers to take away from their experience?

Hankins Cain: I want them to take away the fact that everybody matters, that they are important that Kwanzaa is a community event, not just an African American event, it's a community event, and that they matter. I want them to realize how important it is for us to engage in Sankofa and that is we need to look back into our history and learn the lessons from the past.

So we will not repeat those things in the present and in the future.

And I want them to know that they make a difference.

Schellong: Nana Maxine Hankins Caine is one of the organizers of the annual Kwanzaa celebration at St. Stephens Community Church in Lansing. Thank you for your time today.

Hankins Cain: Okay, then thank you so much for extending the opportunity for St. Stephen's to share Kwanzaa with you.

The annual Kwanzaa celebration will be held over Zoom on Sunday, Dec. 26. Visit St. Stephens’ Community Church Facebook page or website for the link.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Music: Lamu by Xylo-Zikois licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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