Families clad in everything from jeans and T-shirts to full-length African dresses and headdresses blended their voices to recite the pledge.

The gathering of African Americans vowed allegiance to one another, their health and positive principles. The Black Agenda Alliance, founded this summer, held its first official People’s Kwanzaa Celebration on Saturday evening at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in northeast Omaha.

Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration that helps African Americans tie themselves to roots in Africa, Black Agenda Alliance co-founder Qasim Asad said.

Initially created in 1966, the holiday serves to celebrate African culture and tradition through the seven principles over seven days: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

Before an audience of just under 100, children lit seven red, black and green candles before running back to their families with smiles.

Between speeches about the history of Kwanzaa and the importance of its principles, community members performed poetry and shared their hopes for the black community. When moved, listeners shouted “Asé,” which means, “And so it is.”

During breaks in presentations, local African American vendors manned tables full of their handmade wares while children played with Kwanzaa-themed balloons. At the end of the night, the group dismissed to a dinner downstairs.

Although it’s the first year the alliance is officially hosting the event, Asad and co-founder James Henley said the same group has hosted a Kwanzaa celebration two times already.

“The celebration is the same,” Asad said. “It’s just we gave it a little ‘oomph’ by creating a platform.”

That platform essentially consists of the Black Agenda Alliance’s goals to change its community for the better without grants or assistance from outside its own community, Asad said.

The alliance became an official organization this summer, but the group’s founders have been meeting and discussing ways to improve their community for much longer than that, Asad said.

Terrell McKinney, a candidate for the Nebraska Legislature, said the Black Agenda Alliance has identified issues by talking to community members.

“Our plan is to start addressing these issues, being consistent, listening to people and taking action if we want to see change in our community,” he said.

For Asad, the event is about fostering togetherness in the north Omaha community.

“You have people all the way from the street level to the political level coming together collectively to carry out this particular mission,” Asad said.

Although he only knows a few attendees personally, A.Z. Thomas said it felt like everyone was family.

Thomas used to celebrate Kwanzaa with his now-adult children and spoke of the importance of passing down that tradition to kids, the future of the community.

The alliance will hold its second People’s Kwanzaa Kids’ Paint Party on Tuesday to celebrate the principle of kuumba with canvases to paint, snacks and Kwanzaa education.

The group plans to host monthly events in the coming year, including for Black History Month in February.

skarst@owh.com, 402-444-1276, @sierra_karst

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