CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will get an early start on the holidays with a "pre-Kwanzaa" celebration from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18, at OSU's Memorial Union Ballroom.

"This is a free event, open to everyone, but we'd like people to pick up their free tickets in advance," said Lutomia Kuto, community outreach coordinator for OSU's student-run Black Cultural Center.

The tickets help organizers plan for food, refreshments and seating, she said. Tickets are available at OSU Student Involvement, Snell Hall Room 149, Memorial Union East, or at the Black Cultural Center at 25th Street and Monroe Avenue. For information, contact the center at 541-737-4372.

Kuto, along with Black Cultural Center activity coordinator Joakina ModeĀ“ and a host of other volunteers, has spent weeks preparing for the celebration. She admits the gathering is coming early as Kwanzaa is typically celebrated Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, but the university is between terms as the new year begins and many students are out of town. Compared with centuries-old Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is a newcomer, being introduced in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African-American scholar and activist, as the nation was embroiled in a battle over civil rights.

Karenga, who visited OSU in 2000 as a keynote speaker during Black History Month, said one of the more important aspects of Kwanzaa is to think deeply about personal history and culture.

While Kwanzaa is an African holiday, others are welcome to join the celebration, Kuto said, with the messages of Kwanzaa cutting across all cultures.

"We at the Black Cultural Center here at OSU, part our goal with our Kwanzaa event, is a celebration of what we are - our culture and our heritage. But this is something that the entire community can find purpose in as they join us in this Kwanzaa celebration."

Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits" in Swahili, is derived from harvest celebrations of various cultures in Africa. Traditionally, each day of the holiday focuses on one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Kevin Fuller, manager of The Oregonian in Education program for the Portland newspaper, is the featured speaker for the OSU event. Fuller is also founding executive director of Bridge Builders, an educational enrichment program for African-American males.

Members of various student organizations, such as the Black Student Union and the African Student Association, will then talk about the seven principles highlighted by Kwanzaa.

OSU Catering will provide food for the evening, Kuto said.

Kwanzaa celebrations have been going on for more than a decade at the university, starting small in the early years at the Black Cultural Center, but building on previous years and eventually expanding to a larger venue.

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Lutomia Kuto, 541-737-4372