By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent
Vibrant colors and patterns paid tribute to African heritage as the Greater Sacramento NAACP and the California Black Chamber of Commerce hosted “Kwanzaa: The Celebration” at the Golden 1 Center on Dec. 29.
The event, conducted in collaboration with the Sacramento Kings, honored the Kwanzaa principles ujamaa and nia. The ceremony included awards, music, prayer and fellowship.
The celebration date coincided with the fourth day of Kwanzaa, on which a candle is lit representing ujamaa, which is Swahili for “cooperative economics.” On the fifth day, a candle is lit representing nia, Swahili for the principle of “purpose.”
“We as Americans of African descent should recognize our cultural roots in other parts of the world,” said Jay King, CEO and president of the California Black Chamber of Commerce. “These are principles from western Africa that we should practice about unity, togetherness, empowerment and love. I believe these principles should be practiced not only in the Black community, but in communities across this country and across the world.”
Many in attendance wore lappa, a colorful fabric widely worn in West African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria and Benin, and often woven by hand into garments such as dresses and dashikis. Equally impressive were the contemporary ensembles: polished shoes, suede blazers, sequined dresses and wide-brimmed hats influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and civil rights eras of Black fashion.
The NAACP and California Black Chamber issued joint awards to the Highlands Community Charter School, which offers programs for technical training and high school diploma courses for underserved communities, and the California Teachers Association, which supports students, teachers and challenged communities. Both the state legislature and Sacramento City Council honored NAACP President Betty Williams for her contributions to the community. Sacramento City Council members Mai Vang (District 8), Sean Loloee (District 2) and Rick Jennings (District 7) presented the honor to Williams on behalf of the city council. Joe Debbs also presented a resolution on behalf of outgoing state Sen. Dr. Richard Pan.
Pastor Dr. Alice Barber-Banks received the NAACP’s highest honor, the D.D. Mattocks Award, which is awarded for a lifetime of service to the community. Rev. Dr. Banks served as pastor of the Christian Fellowship Ministry Church of Sacramento for 22 years and is a life member of the NAACP, Women’s Civic Improvement Club and National Council of Negro Women.
The California Black Chamber awarded the Visionary Award to Toks Omishakin, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as secretary of the California State Transportation Agency last February. The award is for his work expanding the Broadband Middle Mile Network.
The Chamber presented Small Business Champion awards to Tara Lynn Gray and Tony Tavares. Gray is the former CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce; she left that position in April 2021 after being appointed by the governor as director of the state Office of the Small Business Advocate. Tavares in 2020 was appointed by the governor as Caltrans chief of District 7, which includes Los Angeles and Ventura counties, before being tapped by Newsom to serve as the 34th director of the state department of transportation last June.
“I believe it’s very important to have Kwanzaa in these types of spaces with the NAACP and the Kings,” said Stevante Clark, a local activist and founder of the I Am SAC Foundation. “It shows partnership and unity in our community, it shows that we can get together and bridge gaps that haven’t been bridged before. The chamber has put in so much work and it’s good to see the people that you don’t usually see being celebrated at a public event.”
The keynote speaker was the Hon. Judge Bunmi Awoniyi, the first woman judge in the United States of Nigerian descent. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Judge Awoniyi to the Sacramento Superior Court in 2012. She currently serves as assistant presiding judge.