Woman focuses on African traditions with family during Kwanzaa

December 28, 2005|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Rochelle Kithcart

Age: 45

Occupation: Membership coordinator for the American Society for Law Enforcement Trainers in Frederick, Md.

Hometown: Piedmont, W.Va.

Where would you see Kithcart? This week, Kithcart is celebrating Kwanzaa with her two daughters - Noah, a student at Hampton University, and Nicole, a senior at Frederick High School. Kithcart began the tradition about seven years ago while living in Georgia.

She sees it as a way to celebrate her family's roots.

"It goes more along with our cultural background. We celebrate something someone else has given us," Kithcart said.

Even though she grew up celebrating Christmas and has fond memories, three years ago she decided to forego most of the trimmings of Christmas. The two holidays vary in that Christmas is a religious celebration, while Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, but both embrace the idea of gift giving and sharing family traditions.


"Christmas is not part of our heritage," Kithcart said. "I like to celebrate more of a sense of who I am in Kwanzaa."

While her daughters were disappointed at first, they have come to understand their mother's motives. Her family still gives gifts - either homemade or with a cultural connection - but no longer put up a Christmas tree. Instead, they decorate their home with African symbols.

"Society has created a big hype. It's all about the shopping, the music," Kithcart said of Christmas.

Instead, she has chosen to embrace the seven principles and seven symbols of Kwanzaa, all with roots in the African culture. Kithcart said the seven principles - unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith - provide a spiritual foundation for the upcoming year.

Kwanzaa began Monday and lasts for seven days. Each day a new candle is lit and on Jan. 1, the final candle is lit, then a big meal is shared, generally consisting of foods of African origin. Kithcart has served yams in the past and has served a Caribbean meal because the ingredients are more readily available than traditional African foods.

Each day, a different principle is discussed. Kithcart and her daughters talk about how to incorporate it into their lives in the new year.

"What Kwanzaa does is give me more awareness of African culture that I can share with people," Kithcart said. "It's a reaching back."

Kithcart lived and worked in Hagerstown before moving to Frederick about four years ago. She got involved with the Black Achievers program at the Hagerstown YMCA and continues to volunteer with the program as a steering committee member and Education/Medical Cluster leader.

Before moving to Frederick, Kithcart was active with the Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce, CASA and the Academy of Finance at South Hagerstown High School. Now she's a member of Delta Sigma Theta, a public- service sorority that has become involved with Advocates for Homeless Families in Frederick.

Hobbies: Although there's little time for hobbies, Kithcart said she'd really like to devote more time to sewing and reading.

What does Kithcart like best about Washington County? "I really liked the fact that Hagerstown is a big town but has a small-town feel - there's a close-knittedness in Hagerstown," Kithcart said.

While she said she connected with a lot of people in Hagerstown, Kithcart moved to Frederick because she was attending a church there and to be closer to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. She grew up in a town of less than 2,000 people, but finds she is drawn to the culture and energy of big cities.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024, or send e-mail to

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