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Tonight’s virtual Berkshire Kwanzaa celebration to spotlight the community’s youth voices

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At 6 tonight, Berkshire County celebrates Kwanzaa with a virtual event put on by three community groups: The Women of Color Giving Circle, the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP, and the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program. The non-religious holiday, created in the 1960s to celebrate African and African American culture, began on December 26th and runs through January 1st. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Young, Gifted, and Black: Where Do We Go from Here?” It features musical performances from artists including Wanda Houston and speakers like Mayor Kamal Johnson of Hudson, New York. Organizer Shirley Edgerton spoke with WAMC about the mission of the Women of Color Giving Circle and what’s in store for tonight’s event, which can be livestreamed on PCTV.

EDGERTON: The Women of Color Giving Circle has been in existence, what, about 26, 27 years, and it's a group of women of color who came together because we understood the need for education. And when we say education, we don't mean just formal schooling, but it could be a camp program for young women in terms of STEM, it could be about empowerment. So basically, a group of women, most of us are African American, came together and decided that we wanted to make a difference in the lives of girls and women. So what we've done over the years is we have organized key programs and celebrations as a way of educating the community, supporting young people, and just building community.

WAMC: And the Women of Color Giving Circle is teaming up with the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP and the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program – or R.O.P.E. – for this Kwanzaa celebration being virtually held tonight. The theme is “Young, Gifted, and Black: Where Do We Go From Here?” Break that theme down for me Shirley- What are you guys trying to get at with this year's Kwanzaa celebration?

That's a great question. So given the political and social climate we've been living in, and the impact on all people, but particularly young people, we decided that we want to focus on the present as well as the future of young people, particularly BIPOC young people, and even more specific, African American young people. But this theme is not only relevant to African American youth. It’s relevant to all people, and again, particularly young people. So the song “Young, Gifted, and Black,” it talks about the richness of young people, the skills and the abilities, and some of those abilities and talents are an unseen. So this topic is an opportunity for us to begin to unpack or have that conversation about the abilities and the voices of young African Americans that have not been heard, and the need for them to be heard given the climate, the political and social climate that we're living in- The struggling again with voting rights, the political unrest that's happening in Washington DC, and as well as our concerns locally as to what's happening in the lives of our young people. And so that's the first part of “Young, Gifted, and Black,” because that's who these young people are. And then the question of “Where do we go from here?”, and that's based on the past, and what's currently happening in our lives now. Where do our young people take us? What are some of their ideas? We need to hear their voices, their thought. So this is an opportunity for us to listen and to hear the voices of some of the millennials and some of our college students and high school students that live in our community.

Now, the youth speaker for the event is Sierra Boyd. Why was she selected to be a representative of that younger generation that you've just talked about?

Well, Sierra is a graduate of Livingstone College, HBCU. She has participated on virtual events that the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program have sponsored. So she's currently in graduate school, and she's a young person who's dealt with some challenging issues, but is very positive and has some vision about what she sees our future looking like and the need for education to make that difference.

Now, the keynote speaker is Hudson, New York Mayor Kamal Johnson. Why was he chosen to be the keynote speaker?

Well, as you may know or may not know, Mayor Johnson is a young man of color. He also has a relationship with our community. We've done some work together previously, and he's one of those voices that need to be heard. He's one of those young people that has done a lot of reflecting about the state of the world, the state of our communities, and so this is an opportunity again for his voice to be heard and for other young people and others in and around in surrounding communities to hear his thoughts.

If you want people to walk away with one big takeaway from the Berkshire Kwanzaa celebration happening Wednesday night, what would that take away be?

That we need to listen to our young people and hear their voices.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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