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Did you hear the drums?

About 200 people of all ages, races, religions, cultures, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds--from Evanston, Chicago, nearby suburbs, and even from abroad--"braved" the unusually warm winter weather last night to celebrate the first night of Kwanzaa at the newly renovated Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

Thanks to organizers Tim Rhoze, artistic director of the City of Evanston Illinois Government's Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, inclusion consultant Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan, and the generosity of Evanston's Black community, the diverse crowd reveled with respect and pleasure in this definitively African American tradition.

The event included vendors selling African-centered clothes and jewelry and an arts and crafts station for kids.

This year, for the first time, the celebration included a Council of Elders, seven Evanston residents who, in a variety of significant ways, have spent their lives contributing to the community: Educators Denise Martin, Oliver Ruff, Rose Johnson, and George Dotson, former Alderman and self-described "retired activist" Delores Holmes, the Evanston Police Department's first Black police chief Bill Logan (who was also instrumental in the founding of several significant Evanston organizations), and Bennett Johnson, lifelong Civil Rights activist and newspaper and book publisher.

Johnson received FJT's "Legacy of Cultural Excellence" award.

The celebration opened with a dynamic drum circle led by Chaaze Roberts, which, said one participant, "was quite a workout."

Gilo Logan masterfully guided the audience through the event, maneuvering seamlessly from emcee to musician, explaining the history of Kwanzaa (it was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966 to be the first pan-African holiday. Karenga said his goal was to "give Blacks ... an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society"), its symbols, and its seven principles (nguzo saba):

-- Unity (umoja) -- Self-determination (kujichagulia) -- Collective work and responsibility (ujima) -- Cooperative economics (ujamaa) -- Purpose (nia) -- Creativity (kuumba) -- Faith (imani)

The event concluded with a drumming set featuring sax player Walter Clark that brought younger revelers to the gym floor to dance.

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