Topeka Kwanzaa was created as a holiday for black Americans, its founder said, but its central message -- that the purpose of all people is to do good -- crosses cultural lines.
"Human beings are divinely chosen to bring good into the world. Kwanzaa serves as a season for reflecting on that ongoing struggle," Maulana Karenga said Friday, the second day of the seven-day celebration.
Kwanzaa is modeled on West African harvest celebrations, a theme upon which Karenga drew in his address to about 500 people at a Topeka hotel.
"Let us cultivate a harvest of good together. All real good is shared good. That's Kwanzaa," said Karenga, who is director of black studies at California State University-Long Beach. "That's the metaphor of harvest. We've got to plant it together, grow it together, harvest it together and share it together."
Friday's holiday observations were part of the second statewide Kwanzaa celebration coordinated by the Kansas African-American Affairs Commission.
The organization's executive officer, Pamela Johnson-Betts, said she was pleased with Karenga's presentation.
"Not only are we responsible for doing good in the world, we are responsible for helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves to maintain high moral standards," she said. "Dr. Karenga was so well-received because his message resonated with the good within all of us."
Jemilla Ariori, 17, an international exchange student from Accra, Ghana, also attended Friday's celebration.
"I liked it a lot," said Ariori, a senior at Topeka High School. "It's nice to see black people remember their background, where they came from. I also like the way everyone came together to celebrate unity and freedom from oppression."
Glenn North, director of Urban Transcendence, a youth organization based in Kansas City, Kan., said he was pleased with "the fact that so many African-Americans came together for something so positive and uplifting rather than a party or something that would provide some kind of entertainment."
Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966, one year after the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.
Believing black Americans needed to reconnect with their ancestral roots, Karenga created Kwanzaa, named after the Swahili word "kwanza," which means "first." He patterned Kwanzaa from harvest and first-fruit ceremonies traditionally held by Ibo, Yoruba, Ashanti and other African groups.
The holiday is centered on the "nguzo saba" -- the seven principles of Kwanzaa -- each one recognized on each of the holiday's seven days by lighting a candle.
The principles are: umoja, or unity; kujichagulia, or self-determination; umija, or collective work and responsibility; ujamaa, or cooperative economics; nia, or purpose; kuumba, or creativity; and imani, or faiths.