With the message of ''Umjoa'' which means unity, Youngstown area churches came together Thursday to kick off the first of seven days of celebrating Kwanzaa with music, dancing, and cultural expression.
The week-long celebration honoring African heritage in African-American culture began locally at New Bethel Baptist Church led by Pastor Kenneth Simon of Bethel Baptist Church.
Ron and Lynette Miller, co-organizers of the event, said the celebration showcased the symbols and rituals of Kwanzaa which included a short address explaining the first night of Kwanzaa of ''Umojo.''
''We have 60 to 80 participants from many local churches here celebrating. We will focus on the message of unity but also we will discuss the seven principles and what they mean,'' said Ron Miller.
The seven days are Umoja (Unity) which was Thursday, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) today, Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) on Saturday, Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) on Sunday, Nia (Purpose) on Monday, Kuumba (Creativity) on Tuesday, and Imani (Faith) on Wednesday.
Activities will be held at Youngstown churches during the week on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Children with the Harambee Youth Organization hold the names of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
Miller said the event included candlelighting and the showing of symbols and banners for the seven principle.
''There is a lot of cultural expression from the Hambaree dancers,'' he said.
Miller said Kwanzaa in Youngstown began in 1969 and while other communities, including Warren, have had committees and held events in the past but they have not been in consistent in holding event each year.
''We have gone to Warren some years for Kwanzaa there,'' he said.
Fern Gordon, a parent of one of the Harambee youth who was helping in the lobby, said ''This is a time to celebrate our heritage and culture ... If you don't know where you have come from, how do you know where you will be going.''
Gordon, who has helped for the past 12 years, said, ''More and more people are celebrating Kwanzaa and learning about their heritage.''
She said although there are seven days of Kwanzaa, the Youngstown area has scheduled four nights with events.
''Like everything we have had to scale back some, but still have events for everyone to enjoy,'' Gordon said.
She said what she had noticed the most is more and more children take part many from the Harambee Youth Organization.
Jalyn Monserrat, who was among those drumming, said the event brought ''a sense of unity'' for the first principle of Kwanzaa.
While he was drumming, 1-year-old Anthony Smith, joined him by drumming on small drums on the church stage area next to him.
The Harambee youth were dancers and drummers who also held up flags and banners as the meaning of each of the seven principles was explained.
Dancers performed the ''Dance of Womanhood'' and ''The Dance of the Butterfly'' wearing colorful attire and moving to the beat of the drums.
The event also included a community dinner and also several African-American vendors showcasing various items.
The event was sponsored by the Harambee Coalition.