By Erika Webb
Kwanzaa is neither a religious holiday nor a substitute for Christmas.
"Kwanzaa is an American holiday celebrating African American culture," said Mary Allen, executive director of the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand.
There will be a Kwanzaa celebration at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the museum, 325 S. Clara Ave., DeLand.
Centering around seven principles called Nguzo Saba, Kwanzaa lasts for seven days. This year it began on Dec. 26 and end Jan. 1, Ms. Allen explained. Each day has a corresponding theme and celebrations usually include a speaker, or speakers, who reflect upon that principle.
This year's speaker at the African American Museum of the Arts will be Mike Brown. Mr. Brown will talk about Ujima, collective work and responsibility, in observance of the third day of Kwanzaa.
Day one is for Umoja, which means unity; day two focuses on Kujichagulia or self-determination; day three is dedicated to Ujima, working together; day four is for Ujamaa, supporting each other. The fifth day, Nia, looks at purpose; day six salutes Kuumba or creativity. Imani means faith, especially faith in oneself. That principle is reserved for the seventh and final day of the celebration.
Ms. Allen said there will be poetry recitations and a candle-lighting ceremony as well.
"There's a particular way you light the candles," she said.
Candle lighting is the heart of the Kwanzaa celebration, according to The Imani Foundation, which describes the Mishumu Saba, or ritual of the seven candles, on its website: "Seven youth will read a principle and light the corresponding candle. As the youth lights the candle, we will recite the vow accompanying that principle."
Though the museum in DeLand will host a smaller version of the celebration this year than in years past, Ms. Allen said there will be no shortage of cultural foods including peanut soup, black-eyed peas, rice, chicken, fried plantains, sweet potatoes, fruit, punch and desserts. And there will be salt fish and callaloo -- a Jamaican favorite that is a popular breakfast choice but also enjoyed for lunch, dinner and holidays. Made with codfish and spinach-like callaloo, it is usually served with boiled green banana, yam and dumpling.
This particular event has hosted as many as 300 to 400 people in past years, but Ms. Allen said that was when it was at the Museum of Florida Art. She said those numbers exceed the African American museum's indoor capacity and that last year's outdoor celebration in the amphitheater "was just too cold."
"And our amphitheater's sound system is a little shaky right now," she said. "But we'll see; we're just playing it by the weather."
But scaling back will not be permanent.
"We are a small museum right now but we are in the process of building a new museum next door," Ms. Allen said. We're raising funds (for a larger building) and also plan to renovate our existing space."
She said phase two of DeLand's African American Museum of Art will house more than one gallery and include space for more activities.
The museum, which Ms. Allen said is the only one of its kind in "five or so counties," is focused primarily on African, African American and Caribbean American art. She said it contains more than 150 artifacts and that each year six or more exhibits featuring the artwork of local and well-established artists are displayed.
"We get a lot of people on vacation, traveling, people from all over during the year," she said. "They're surprised there is an African American museum in DeLand."
The museum also hosts a youth summer camp, which includes three weeks of art, dance, music, arts and crafts, and field trips, all overseen by certified teachers, Ms. Allen said, as well as an after-school program on Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. Both of those programs and most others are free to the public.
The African American Museum of the Arts was founded in 1994 by Irene D. and Maxwell Johnson. That same year the museum signed an agreement with the DeLand Housing Authority for a 1,200 square foot facility.
Support for the museum comes from donations, fundraising events, grant programs, such as those sponsored by the Cultural Council of Volusia County.
"We're a little gem sitting right in the African American Community of DeLand," Mrs. Allen said.