When Alicia Latimer starts talking about Kwanzaa, her smile grows and fluorescent lights reflect off her glasses onto her cheeks. It’s as if she’s literally glowing.
Latimer, coordinator of Rudisill Regional Library’s African-American Resource Center, is one of an estimated 6 million to 20 million people in the United States who observe the pan-African holiday celebrating family, community and culture.
Observed Dec. 26-Jan. 1, Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor, activist and author, according to various sources.
Each year on Dec. 26, Latimer and the rest of the library staff host more than 150 community members, leaders and elders in a Kwanzaa celebration.
“It is really important to remind ourselves every year about the commitment to our community, about bringing everybody together so that we remember what the goal is and what the vision is,” Latimer says. “We celebrate the ancestors. That’s really significant because as I get older, we lose people every year.”
There’s a candle lighting to honor those who have “gone before.” There’s a ceremonial libation to honor African ancestors. Children present gifts for the elders; dance to African drumming; and perform a show titled “Mamanem” to share their talents for singing, dancing, music, etc.
Each child is gifted a book, a library tradition that started in 1998, when now Tulsa City-County Library CEO Kimberly Johnson worked as the resource center coordinator. The event is open to everyone.
When Rudisill’s annual celebration began, Latimer worked for a governmental agency supervising payment of claims. She says it was grueling work. When she discovered what Johnson was doing, she started volunteering and found it to be an amazing way to give back.
“I would go to different schools and tell stories — African-related folk tales — or I would teach children to be storytellers because I love drama. I love the arts,” Latimer says. “I did it for free, because I didn’t know they pay people to do it. It was my release from the drudgery of what I was doing.”
Eventually she retired from her government position and came to work for the TCCL.
As the days get closer to Kwanzaa, Latimer gets more excited. She starts thinking about what spoken word piece she will share. As she talks about her favorite moment of that week, her giant smile returns.
“We love the spirit of togetherness when the drummers come in and all present respect the tradition of honoring the past and embracing the future,” she says.
Dec. 26 — Let’s Celebrate Kwanzaa!
6-8:45 p.m. Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave. Free and open to the public. tulsalibrary.org