Kim El's ‘Ubuntu Holiday’ teaches Kwanzaa traditions, history with humor

SCENE FROM UBUNTU HOLIDAY—From left: Sundiata Rice, Melessie Clark, LaMar Darnell Fields and Nia Washington in Ubuntu Holiday, at Pittsburgh Playwrights. (Photo courtesy of Mark Southers)

Paris Nakena Crosby wasn’t particularly familiar with Kwanzaa until she portrayed Jean Allen, a Christian, Christmas-loving single mother in The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre production of Kim El’s” Ubuntu Holiday.”
“Playing the part cleared up some gray areas about Kwanzaa,” said Crosby who grew up in the heart of the Hill District and is making her acting debut in “Ubuntu Holiday.” “This play is a great way to enlighten people and give them a better understanding of Kwanzaa and its principals.”
Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture and is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It has seven core principles: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa(Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). It was first celebrated by its creator, Maulana Karenga in 1966-67.
Crosby’s character, Jean Allen, believes that Kwanzaa is a voodoo holiday that someone created to stop Blacks from celebrating Christmas. She also resents the holiday because her friend Sharifa began celebrating the holiday and Jean feels that their friendship has changed.
But Sharifa proves to Jean that Kwanzaa makes Blacks proud of their African heritage.
“It’s about the importance of family, culture, spiritual enlightenment and education,” said Crosby. “This has been a beautiful journey and we get to draw strength and inspiration from our audience”
Audience member Billy Jackson believed “Ubuntu Holiday” would be a great educational tool for children to learn more about Kwanzaa.
“This was not only a play but a lesson in culture,” explained Jackson who participated in a Karenga Kwanzaa celebration some time ago. “It doesn’t have to be compared to Christmas. It reaffirms our culture in a joyful and fun way.”
Attendee Ryan Scott agreed with Jackson.
“I was somewhat familiar with Kwanzaa but this play gave me more understanding of Kwanzaa and its principles,” Scott said. “A lot of people have a misconception of what Kwanzaa is but this play should make them want to get a more clear understanding.”
That’s why Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Artistic Director, Mark Clayton Southers, decided to produce “Ubuntu Holiday” this season.
“I’ve always considered theater the perfect vehicle for change and a great platform to learn about issues and ideas,” Southers said. “Kim El’s ‘Ubuntu Holiday’ gives us the audience an opportunity to fully learn about Kwanzaa and its principles in a relaxed theatrical setting where our collected emotions can take these lessons in for a better appreciation and understanding. This well-balanced cast under the marvelous care given by director Mils James has done a great job of bringing Kim El’s words to life.”
In addition to Crosby, the play, which was filled with actors in debut roles, also starred Melessie Clark, LaMar Darnell Fields, Nadia Locust, Scott Nanji, Sundiata Rice and Nia Washington.
“Ubuntu in the Xhosa culture in Africa roughly translates to: ‘I am who I am because of who we are.’ It’s like a cultural consciousness connecting us to one another,” explained playwright Kim El.
“In many parts of Africa, Ubuntu also means ‘the essence of human kindness.’ For the past 25 years I have acknowledged the philosophy of Ubuntu and applied it to my participation in Kwanzaa celebrations.
“It was my intentions with this play to stimulate your minds and open your hearts to the true meaning of humanity during the holiday season,” El continued. “Each year the warmth of family Christmases and Kwanzaa memories remind me that I am blessed to be inspired by my African culture, embraced by my community and uplifted by family and friends.”
(For more information on Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater visit
LARRY SCOTT AND CANDACE WALKER (Photo courtesy of Tene Croom)

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