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White Plains Celebrates Kwanzaa with Drums, Dance

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The audience thrust its hands up and down, following the lead of the Sankofa Drum and Dance Ensemble, as nearly 200 gathered in the Thomas H. Slater Neighborhood Center to celebrate Kwanzaa with music and dance.

Sankofa opened the celebration Thursday with a rhythm that prompted the audience to respond with "ujama," which means cooperative economics in Swahili.

Families light a candle in honor of various African-American cultures and values on each of Kwanzaa's seven days until the entire kanara, or candle holder, is ablaze. Since cooperative economics was the Kwanzaa principal Thursday, White Plains focused on supporting the community's shops, organizations, and several artists and musicians who performed in front of a Pan-African flag Thursday.

"The first candle that we light is for unity because we are all one no matter where you come from or who you are or what you look like," said Petra Thombs, who helped organize the festival with the Community Unitarian Church at White Plains. "In White Plains Kwanzaa here takes place because of the community, the coming together.”

She explained the second candle's representation of self-determination, the third is of collective work and responsibility, before launching into the principal of the day.

"Collective economics is to build, maintain and support our own establishments and businesses," said Thombs, a Valhalla resident who chairs her church's committee on the spirit of truth. The fifth candle represents purpose, the sixth candle celebrates creativity, and the seventh honors faith.

White Plains then paid tribute to iconic African-Americans such as Rosa Parks, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., and several attendees' grandparents with a libation water ceremony a Sankofa drummer practiced growing up in Ghana.

Delphine Burton, who works for the White Plains Housing Authority, honored four local seniors who gave back to the community: Harry Bright, the city's former human rights commissioner and volunteer, Diane Biggs, who volunteers at the Slater Center, Rosalind Keys, a Mamaroneck Avenue Elementary School employee who gives up her free time to assist students, and Deacon DeWitt Roy Smith, a Bethel Baptist Church leader who runs a Cub Scouts troop.

"This is better than any plaque that you can hang on your wall or any trophy that will gather dust because it's from your community," Burton said before giving the seniors certificates, gifts, and journals made by White Plains kids.

The Youth Bureau's dance team took the stage next, followed by the White Plains "Royalty Steppers," and rhymes from local rap group Highly Intelligent People Healing Our Planet.

The Community Unitarian Church, Slater Center, Housing Authority, Youth Bureau, School District and White Plains Juneteenth Heritage Committee cosponsored the event.

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