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Unity will be prevailing theme at Women of Color Giving Circle’s 2022 Kwanzaa celebration in Pittsfield

Women of Color Giving Circle

The Women of Color Giving Circle of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is preparing for its annual Kwanzaa celebration next week.

The gathering will be at the Tyer Street Lab in Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood at 6 p.m. on the 29th.

“Kwanzaa is the African American and Pan-African holiday. It's not Christmas. It celebrates family, community and culture," said Leah Reed, a member of the Circle, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated – the first Black sorority – and the former Vice President of the Berkshire Chapter of the NAACP. “That's so important for Black people right now, just really having a platform and a time where we can just celebrate ourselves, celebrate our greatness and everything that we have going for us at a time where maybe people are not able to see or appreciate all of that, because that's not what's being portrayed in general society and social media. So, this is a good time to bring the community together for this, and I think, for the women of color, you know, it's been a very, very long journey.”

The Circle has been holding a yearly Kwanzaa celebration since 1998.

“While Kwanzaa is only December 26th through January 1st, it's not just a holiday, it is a way of life," Reed told WAMC. "And they're principles that we strive to live by and practice. And I think it's important for people to know that it's just a day of dedication and reflection and recommitment to those principles.”

Each year, the group highlights one of the seven principles of the holiday.

“This year's theme is Umoja, which means unity," explained Reed. "And we have amazing things going on. We're going to have a nice skit from our young people in the community about the Kwanzaa holiday and different things. We also have some speakers that will be there as well. One of our speakers is Keiana West, and this speaks volumes of the work that the Women of Color Giving Circle do.”

West, a Pittsfield native and Williams College graduate, has deep ties with another Berkshire County institution for women of color: Rites of Passage and Empowerment, or ROPE.

“The really important thing that the Women of Color and ROPE try to strive for is really working and working with and meeting our young women where they're at, and seeing if they can come back to the community and share and kind of have a place here," said Reed. "And with Keiana, she's done phenomenal, phenomenal things. And she currently right now is the senior coordinator of the community engagement team for the Center for Policing Equity.”

Based at Yale, the Center for Policing Equity explores disparities in law enforcement by analyzing policing data. Its mission is to reduce harm within American law enforcement by redesigning public safety.

“Prior to that, she was the co-founder and co-director for the Justice League Mentoring Program, which was an excellent program that worked with our youth in the middle school, and just really mentoring to them about making good choices and things.”

The program, operated by Williams, works with underserved students at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield.

The keynote speaker of this year’s Kwanzaa celebration will be attorney Aimee Griffin Joyner of Life & Legacy Counselors.

“She is currently adjunct professor of law at Western New England Law School," Reed said. "But she comes to us just being a woman, a Black woman who has her own firm with attorneys and professionals committed to supporting in the creation and protection and transfer of wealth through estate and business planning, but also really, really working with communities of colors and that generational wealth. So, she's going to come and speak to us about what she does, but also tie that into Umoja and Unity for our community because that's important.”

Reed says that theme feels more resonant than ever in 2022.

“Just in light of where we are just as, as Black people in society right now," she told WAMC. "It was important to come together and to highlight the positives, our strengths, our blessings, and what we're doing. When we talk about our young people, and as they graduate and we call them young, gifted, and Black, it's because they are. And we need for other people in our community around us to see that and know that and recognize that. And so, it is really important for us to have the speakers that we have. And of course, we are the Women of Color Giving Circle, so it's very important to highlight and have strong women who are doing phenomenal things and are about unity and their communities.”

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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