Leonard Harris, of Flossmoor, lifts a cup with what would typically be shared communal libations on Saturday, Dec. 31, during the sixth night of Kwanzaa. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)
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Kwanzaa Night 6: Leonard Harris honors ancestors with unity cup, lights kinara, talks creativity

Leonard Harris said they were going to improvise a little the evening of Saturday, Dec. 31.

Typically, the Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) would be filled with libations and passed around the group. But Harris said he was not going to do that during the sixth night of a community celebration of Kwanzaa taking place at Flossmoor Park.

Instead, as he held the cup, he asked those present to think about and call out the names of the ancestors they wished to honor.

“I don’t want you to do it quietly,” Harris said. “I want you to call out their name so people on the other side of the viaduct can hear it.”

Leonard Harris, of Flossmoor, lifts a cup with what would typically be shared communal libations on Saturday, Dec. 31, during the sixth night of Kwanzaa. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)
Leonard Harris, of Flossmoor, lifts a cup with what would typically be shared communal libations on Saturday, Dec. 31, during the sixth night of Kwanzaa. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)

The 40-year Flossmoor resident led the celebration of the holiday on the last day of 2022 by setting a table near the community kinara with colorful cloth, a bowl of fruit and gifts. Leonard’s wife, Donna, helped light candles as he recapped the holiday’s principles day by day. 

“They’re all relevant,” he said. “They’re all important.”

Last year, Harris did self-determination. This year, he drew Kuumba, or creativity, which he explained is about people finding new, innovative ways to leave communities better than they inherited them. He said he was happy to fit in wherever needed in the celebration, but noted that there is significance to the last two nights of the seven-day celebration happening as we transition to a new year.

“It is a great time for Kwanzaa,” Harris said. “It’s a time when we make resolutions. It’s a time for us to make a new commitment to our struggle.”

Leonard Harris, of Flossmoor, reads the daily principles of Kwanzaa as his wife, Donna, lights each candle on the community kinara at Flossmoor Park. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)
Leonard Harris, of Flossmoor, reads the daily principles of Kwanzaa as his wife, Donna, lights each candle on the community kinara at Flossmoor Park. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)

Kwanzaa is about the struggle and liberation of Black people, Harris said, and the holiday is a recommitment to that struggle. He said that is particularly important at a time when truth, democracy, control of one’s own body and voting rights are being threatened across the country.

“Now is a time as great as any to be committed to the struggle,” he said. “The principles of Kwanzaa are not just applied to Black folks but are universal and can be applied to all.”

The black candle on the kinara, the first to be lit, represents Black people and their unity, Harris explained. The red candles represent “the blood of our people,” of sacrifice and commitment, he said. The green ones represent the land and hope for the future.

Harris said they light the kinara each year at home, in addition to their involvement with the community celebration. They discuss the principles with their children and grandchildren, a tradition dating back to when their oldest son, now 40, was just a child.

“We started when he was small,” Harris said. “We just hope to strive — which is what Kwanzaa’s all about — to make our communities better.” 

Harris ended his public presentation by asking participants to repeat “Harambe” (pulling together) along with an arm movement. Donna passed out the gifts, which featured papers including a Kwanzaa prayer, a list of terms associated with the holiday including Zawadi (gifts), and an outline of the seven principles. She also gave out small Thoughtfulls cards that offered positive messages and quotes.

“I’m so appreciative of the fact that the Village of Flossmoor and the mayor saw fit to participate and honor the Kwanzaa holiday with the celebration,” Harris said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it, and we hope to build on it in the future.” 

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