Before Kiera Robins started her own soap-making business, the grind of her state government job meant she had little flexibility in her daily life.
“I couldn’t do things like take my daughter to the doctor,” she said Saturday evening at a Kwanzaa celebration in Baton Rouge. “It was a matter of independence.”
Self-determination was the driving theme Saturday as more than 300 people filed into Southern University’s Cotillion Ballroom to celebrate Kwanzaa.
Saturday marked the second day of the holiday, a seven-day celebration of African culture, community and family, dating back to 1966.
Kwanzaa honors a different principle each day: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
The event marked the 26th annual Kwanzaa celebration hosted by the Africentric Focus/Maat Study Group of Baton Rouge, a nonprofit, community-based organization.
Ava Muhammad, national spokeswoman for the Nation of Islam, was keynote speaker at the event.
“Kwanzaa offers the descendants of African slaves the opportunity to experience our own culture,” Muhammad said before delivering her address.
During her speech, Muhammad stressed the importance of black entrepreneurship and touched on violence, including recent police officer-involved deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere.
“If we respect the ancestors of those who came before us, then the first thing we have to do is respect the life that we have been given,” she said.
Merchants sold artwork, jewelry and other handmade goods in the hallway outside the ballroom, while a steady stream of attendees arrived throughout the three-hour celebration.
Antoine Mitchell, 33, a Baton Rouge artist, said the spirit of Kwanzaa provides him creative inspiration in his work.
“All the art I produce throughout the year dealing with black people comes together at an event like this,” he said.
Kwanzaa, he said, is about celebrating the power of black culture and finding ways to apply it in the community.
For Robins, 37, that’s meant spending long hours developing her line of soap and hair-care products, with her business partner, Michelle Tapps-Vicks.
“But I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything,” she said.
Follow Matt McKinney on Twitter, @Mmckinne17.