The festivities line 18th Street along Vine, where a kinara (not to be confused with a menorah, which also holds candles but for a different holiday altogether) stands testament behind the Gem Theater. And while an African market is open every night starting on Tuesday, the atmosphere promises to be much different from the other types of markets more widely associated with winter holidays. Riley feels ambivalent about Kwanzaa's recent inclusion in shopping-mall displays because the increased visibility has come at a cost: The holiday now bears the price tags of commercialization. She singles out no culprit, though. "That's just the American way," she laments. "Make a profit wherever you can."
Riley and other event coordinators have done their best to keep the commercial side of Kwanzaa out of their celebration. For Tuesday's opening night at the Gem, Danny Hinds, a drummer, choreographer, and fine arts coordinator for Kansas City's African-centered schools, along with AZ-ONE's Elijah Israel and a cast of students, perform a "Tropical Spectacular" inspired by African, South American, and Caribbean cultures.
Such drum and dance circles at Kansas City schools have been successful examples of the type of community-building that Kwanzaa is intended to promote, Hinds notes -- they build self-esteem, increase attendance, and bring out the parents, which helps unify the family. "We're seeing a whole different picture of families' involvement in schools," he says.
So when it comes to their winter break, the kids aren't dreaming of just a white Christmas anymore.