At the Midwood International Cultural Center in Charlotte, members of a panel discuss issues important to the African American community on the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26, 2016. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for

Politics, police shootings in the black community and strategies for survival in the era of Donald Trump were among the topics discussed Monday at an event marking the first day of Kwanzaa.

The daylong marketplace and Kwanzaa festival, hosted by Nubian Rootz Cultural Center, attracted an estimated 700 people, said the organization’s director, Sister Gerry.

More than 100 attended an afternoon panel discussion that included Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake; Corey Muhammad, a local leader in the Nation of Islam; activist Bree Newsome, who scaled a flag pole on the South Carolina State House grounds to pull down a Confederate flag; and former CMPD homicide detective Gary McFadden.

The panelists all agreed that more must be done to unite the African American community in Charlotte and to address issues such as failing schools and high rates of unemployment. Some also expressed a general hope that the election of Trump would spur African Americans nationwide to embrace a new era of unity.

McFadden, who stars in the reality TV show “I Am Homicide” on the cable channel Investigation Discovery, took issue with local activists who marched through uptown Charlotte to protest recent police shootings of black men. Rather than “shouting at buildings,” he said, activists would be better served meeting with and lobbying their elected officials to change CMPD policies.

Newsome disagreed, arguing that street protests are typically a last result for frustrated residents who have been ignored by those in power.

Leake, who represents District 2 on Charlotte’s west side, said too many black parents have failed to get involved in guaranteeing quality education for their children. And she decried the high rate of “black-on-black” crime in the city, especially homicides.

Muhammad, student minister of Muhammad Mosque 36 in Charlotte, was among those who expressed hope that the Trump election would herald a new era of unity and activism among African Americans. As a man of faith, he said, he chooses to see divine intervention at play in the November vote.

Sister Gerry, executive director of Nubian Rootz Culture Cultural Center in Charlotte, organizer of the 2016 Kwanzaa Festival and African Marketplace. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for
Sister Gerry, executive director of Nubian Rootz Culture Cultural Center in Charlotte, organizer of the 2016 Kwanzaa Festival and African Marketplace. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for

Sister Gerry said the panel was assembled to help the community map out strategies for the coming year.

In an interview with Qcitymetro, she talked about that and other issues relating to Kwanzaa, the annual seven-day celebration of family, community and African culture that ends January 1.

Q. In terms of participation, both nationally and here in Charlotte, how healthy is Kwanzaa?

We’re celebrating 50 years, so that indicates to us that we are doing something right… This afternoon we had a lot of presentations, and this theme was for each one to reach one and teach one. And so various people in the community came in with their bodies of knowledge, their expertise; they did presentations, they did demonstrations, they had lectures, we had workshops. So we had an environment that supports supporting each other spiritually and educationally.

Q. What does Kwanzaa have to teach us at this time in the life of our nation and the black struggle?

Kwanzaa gives us a matrix. Some people do not know on a collective level what it takes to maintain a healthy community, a healthy family. And these seven principles guide us in terms of sustaining our families in healthy ways, in focused ways. This discussion that we’re having is a part of Kwanzaa. We are to in-gather, discuss and plan for the upcoming year. It’s often overlooked in the pageantry and ceremonial aspects.

Q. How does Kwanzaa carry on beyond January 1?

They are daily principles for living. They are guiding principles. If you are not sure how you are faring, you can look at the principles and say ‘Have I done good business in my own community today when you think of co-operative economics? Did I keep money circulating in my own community? What about collective worth? Wow, look at Mr. and Miss So-and-So. They’re cleaning the streets. Did I help pick up the trash?’ It’s collective work that we must do. All of these things are collective in nature, and we’re going to hurt until we can in-gather and work together and remove our labels one from the other and realize that that which binds us as a community is infinitely greater than our differences of religion or spirituality or socio-economics.

Q. How was this year’s event?

Phenomenal. I think we’re all hurting enough in this tide of a new, painful presidency. In many respects I think we are all facing the economic, the social and the spiritual crossroads. And perhaps now we will have dialogues where we can work more toward our commonality as opposed to our differences. The differences themselves are not greater than the challenges we face collectively as a community.

Q. What is Nubian Rootz?

Nubian Rootz is an 18-year-old organization that was first home for traditional African culture and history. We have some organizations that preserve and present African American traditions, but we were the first organization to preserve and present traditional African culture, and we wanted to anchor our community to the values of its culture, because culture is a blueprint for living. And so the answers that we seek, they already exist. The wisdom is already in the world; we don’t have to build another mousetrap. We must study. There is so much wisdom.

Q. Do you have events throughout the year?

No, this is our flagship. We are an online or virtual cultural center. We have a Facebook page. We have over 126,000 likes and we have approximately 125,000 following our page, and that is pan-African, and so we’re really proud of that… We are trying to teach civility. We are trying to teach about their culture and heritage. We don’t teach the shock value. We want you to anchor yourself to something so positive that it provides you with a solution. When you study, there are answers to everything you seek. They exist. We also hope to augment those who are just walking around being angry about the past. We say, no, don’t be angry; utilize that and propel yourself forward. Price already paid. You don’t need to make the same mistakes.

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.