This year Kwanzaa will be celebrated all over Portland. But 20 years ago, the community hub for the holiday was the North Portland Library.
Joyce Braden Harris and other community members pioneered the tradition of a free community Kwanzaa celebration in Portland. Patricia Welch, previous Multnomah County Library administrator, "had the privilege of adding the library to the vibrant community tradition. From the beginning, Mama Makini (Joyce) was the bedrock of our celebration," said Welch.
Since then, the North Portland Library has fought to preserve its identity and function as a Black-centering public space.
More Black Cultural Library Advocates staff work at North Portland than any other branch. This is a feat of caring intentionality from previous library administrator Perry Gardner, challenging the trajectory of gentrification displacement and erasure.
North Portland Library houses the Black Resource Collection, which includes titles written by authors of, or about, the African Diaspora. It’s also home to the Black Pacific Northwest Collection, featuring materials created by Black and African writers in the Pacific Northwest.
The 2022 in-person Kwanzaa celebration marks a joyous return after two years of virtual programming. This year’s theme, “Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility,” calls out the fortitude of community and identity in Northeast Portland.
The event will take place at North Portland Library on Dec. 17, from 12-3 p.m. It will be led by innovator of Black Futures Farm, Malcolm Hoover. Brother Malcolm has been celebrating Kwanzaa for 45 years and leading community ceremonies for over a decade. He notes,
"[Kwanzaa] is a cultural institution serving the diaspora, celebrating and centering the sanctity of our resilience, prosperity and joy in the Black community."
Guests can perform original pieces in an open mic alongside student performers from Portland Public Schools. There will be a live cooking demonstration by local Chef Michelle Guinn and Chef Sable Askew highlighting traditional African foods. A gallery of Malian mud cloths, created by the elders of IRCO Africa House, will be on display.
Attendees of all ages can contribute to a collective art piece inspired by Malian mud cloth making at the event. The finished art piece will be unveiled at the 2024 opening ceremony of the Black Cultural Center, to be built as part of an addition to the North Portland Library campus.
The new Black Cultural Center at North Portland Library will have a community-centered art mural. Staff look forward to opening those doors and bringing "a new standard of quality of programming to the community that is innovative and visionary," as described by Israel Fin, program coordinator.
The clock can not be turned back on the migration of Portland's Black community throughout the county since Vanport, redlining and gentrification. However, together with community partners and the Black Cultural Library Advocacy group established in 15 of the 19 libraries across the county, the North Portland Library will continue claiming space for community built on the cornerstone of its Kwanzaa celebrations.