Crown Heights

Weeksville holds first Kwanzaa celebration in 45 years

December 17, 2019 Paul Frangipane
Weeksville Heritage Center hosted its first Kwanzaa celebration in 45 years. Edge School of the Arts dancers kicked off performances at the event. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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In commemoration of pan-African heritage and the history of African American roots in Brooklyn, Weeksville Heritage Center held its first Kwanzaa celebration since 1974 on Saturday — six months after it was set to be designated a city cultural institution.

Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights is Brooklyn’s largest African American cultural institution. It operates as a live museum, preserving the history of the people that settled there in the 19th century: one of the country’s many free black communities.

In July 2019, the center was in danger of closing due to a budget shortfall, but it surpassed a $200,000 crowd-funding goal and is now set to be designated as the newest member of the city’s Cultural Institutions Group. It will be the first new addition in more than 20 years and the first black cultural center in Brooklyn to make the list.

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In the wake of the victory, a celebration was in order.

Dancers from Edge School of the Arts perform at the Kwanzaa celebration. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Dancers from Edge School of the Arts perform at the Kwanzaa celebration. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Osei Williams, executive director of Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation, had a vision for Kwanzaa of bringing together cultural aspects from across Africa and and the African diaspora. That vision culminated in a celebration at Weeksville on Saturday with vendors of traditional African wares, artistic classes from multiple African cultures and performances that embodied the spirit of the holiday.

“With Weeksville being a very historical place right here in Brooklyn, I felt that we needed to have Kwanzaa here,” Williams said. “We can’t have a community without having history, without having some kind of grounds that we stand on and without having pride.”

Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation pitched a celebration with a variety of classes, like Yao Ababio's Djembe drum class. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation pitched a celebration with a variety of classes, like Yao Ababio’s Djembe drum class. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The event was free and open to the public from noon to night, with various programming throughout and performances from local artists running into the evening. For Williams, who wrote the proposal to Weeksville to host the event, it was important to distinguish Kwanzaa not as a religious holiday, but as a cultural one.

Performers danced in front of a showing of Kerri Edge's film, 4 Little Girls. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Performers danced in front of a showing of Kerri Edge’s film, 4 Little Girls. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Before the night’s performances, there were several programs held, including a Djembe drum class, Soca dance class, steel pan class and periodic tours of the center’s historic homes.

“We’re doing this to be part of the community, not to be some institution that’s sort of, on the shelf … we want you here included,” Rob Fields, president of Weeksville Heritage Center, told a packed room of visitors.

“We can be a space in central Brooklyn for this kind of activity and convening and just celebration,” Fields said. “So we’re going to be here, thanks to you guys.”

Dance moves and characters aligned with scenes from the film. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Dance moves and characters aligned with scenes from the film. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Performances kicked off with Edge School of the Arts dancers directed by Kerri Edge, accompanied by her film “4 Little Girls,” and engaged the crowd with a unifying display that left audience members clapping and singing along.

“We’re just really honored to bring this tradition back to Weeksville,” said Program Manager Zenzele Cooper. “This is the beginning, so hopefully next year it’ll be bigger and better.”


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