published Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Kwanzaa celebrates unity

by Andrew Pantazi
Katherine Payne talks to a fellow churchgoer just before a Kwanzaa celebration held at Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church on Friday.
Katherine Payne talks to a fellow churchgoer just before a Kwanzaa celebration held at Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church on Friday.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

The music stopped, then started, then stopped again, and the all-white dance group looked at each other with confused looks on their faces. They knew their dance, so soon they were ignoring the skipping music and dancing in celebration of Kwanzaa.

"That's good," deacon William Hudgins said Friday from his seat, clapping his hands to keep the beat going.

"Those young people did not let the devil override," Katherine Payne said to the 50 people gathered at Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

Carolyn Lewis, organizer of the church's fifth annual Kwanzaa celebration, had decided to invite Covenant Fellowship Church of Dunlap, Tenn., to bring their dancers to show that Kwanzaa should unite people regardless of race.

"Kwanzaa," she said, "is for everybody."

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African-American heritage that began in 1966 highlighting a new African value each night, starting on Dec. 26 and running through Jan. 1. At Union Hill, the church combines the seven principles into one celebration.

Charlotte Williams, the speaker at the church's ceremony, said that the celebration is about reminding the African-American community of the principles of survival.

"Once you leave here, after celebrating these principles, then you can take action and make the world a better place," Williams said. "The freedoms we have is not man-given. They are God-given.

"We celebrate Dunlap [church members] for being here with us because we know as a people that we did not survive alone."

Wanda Rawlins, the pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church, said that she was surprised at how spiritual the event was.

"I feel like our horizons have been broadened tonight because you have invited us in and accepted us to celebrate this with you," she told the church. "I celebrate the freedom that you won, and I celebrate the freedom that all of us have tonight."

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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