HIGHLAND PARK – Children engaged in African drum playing and dancing, feasted on cultural soul food and grooved to a jazz ensemble to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa at an event sponsored by Jack and Jill of America’s North Shore chapter, a Highland Park-based organization run by African-American mothers focussed on teaching their children to become successful leaders.
“The most exciting part of the event was to see families from across the North Shore suburbs near and far coming together to celebrate our African heritage and roots,” said Nagawa Kakumba, who co-chaired the event with Monica Palmer.
“I also enjoyed the active involvement of our children in the Kwanzaa presentation. It’s all about the kids and future generations in the end,” Palmer said.
Jack and Jill of America’s North Shore Chapter was founded in Highland Park in 1975 and contributes funds to the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm. Since its inception the Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to communities across America. In 2016 the Foundation awarded $35,000 to the Obama Foundation in support of The Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago, according to the Jack and Jill of America-North Shore Chapter website.
Kakumba said the Foundation invests in the future of African American children and the development of leaders. Foundation grants are focused on empowering young people to make the right life choices and are improving academic test scores, raising literacy and mathematical competencies, encouraging cultural consciousness and instilling moral and social responsibility in America’s youth.
Jack and Jill of America, Inc North Shore Chapter President Patricia Martin said they have seen the benefits in mothers who grew up in the Jack and Jill organization: “They are active citizens and leaders in the community who are doctors, lawyers, educators, artists, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs and other professionals who contribute to society overall. They are now helping to guide the next generation of leaders,” Martin added.
Kakumba is a mother member who in addition to being co-chair for the Kwanzaa celebration is on the executive board for Jack and Jill of America – North Shore Chapter. The chapter was founded at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Highland Park that is just a few blocks from her home.
“I enjoy ‘working with’ and being a part of Jack and Jill of America, Inc North Shore Chapter given the chapter’s roots in Highland Park and its mission to support the development of African American youth who are fully prepared for life, careers, and community,” Kakumba said. “I am excited to continue a legacy and mission that started so close to my home and I’m grateful for the chance to collaborate and offer my experience and support to other mother members as we strive and organize to effect change and create value in the surrounding North Shore communities.”
Those values extend to supporting several local organizations, including: the Carol Robertson Center, the United Negro College Fund, Boys And Girls Club of America, Family Focus of Evanston, Bernie’s Book Bank, The Primo Center, and PADs Lake County, said Martin.
This year’s recipient of Jack and Jill of America-North Shore Chapter is North Chicago Community Partners.
“North Chicago Community Partners (NCCP) is an organization that aligns closely with Jack and Jill of America, Inc North Shore Chapter’s mission to provide children with unique and enriching activities that will enable them to thrive,” said Martin. “NCCP uses a proven model to deliver quality education for students and provides enrichment, engagement and social service support for the entire school community.”
The NCCP was honored with a chapter donation of $500 and chapter members brought donated items that included student uniforms, household and personal items, she added.
But what does this have to do with Kwanzaa?
Kakumba explained that the purpose of the celebration was to immerse North Shore families in an “African cultural extravaganza and to extend gratitude and support to the local community.”
The holiday begins on December 26 and runs through January 1, 2017. “Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality” said Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa.
Kakumba said the seven-day spiritual holiday is celebrated among African Americans in the United States and throughout the African Diaspora worldwide. It is often celebrated in conjunction with Christmas and New Years.
Here are several photos of the December e celebration at Independence Grove in Libertyville:
A spirited Moya Dance and Drum performance
Children of all ages participated in the Kwanzaa celebration