Detroit Breathes Renewed Life Into Cultural Kwanzaa Celebration  

Rendering of the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara. 

Photo courtesy of the City of Detroit. 


There’s a lot to celebrate this year as 2022 draws to a close. Before the new tides of 2023 come, however, the Kwanzaa holiday is soon approaching with big festivities planned for the city of Detroit.  

Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson recently partnered with Alkebu-lan Village and Downtown Detroit Partnership to build the world’s largest Kwanzaa Kinara in Campus Martius.  

A kinara is a candle holder for seven candlesticks celebrating the seven principles of Kwanzaa.  

The Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara is under construction currently.   

Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, honors the communities, culture, and heritage of African Americans, although all are welcome to celebrate it.   

The candles are solar-powered and designed to light each day until the full Kinara is lit.  

A full program to announce the new Kinara, outline the principles of Kwanzaa and celebrate the lighting of Day 1 is planned for 5 p.m., Monday, Dec. 26.  

Nearly a year ago, Councilman Scott Benson contacted local authorities to inquire about the process of erecting a structure to commemorate Detroit’s seven-day Kwanzaa celebration. Construction on the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara, which will be the tallest Kinara of its kind in the world once it is finished and reaches a formidable 30 feet in height, began after many weeks of meetings and planning.  

“Kwanzaa is about celebrating and reflecting on unity, community, collective work and other principles,” said Councilmember Scott Benson, who represents Detroit’s Third District. “These principles bind us together and help us build a better tomorrow. Kwanzaa is a celebration that benefits us all. That is why I want Detroit to recognize Kwanzaa, reminding us that none of us can stand alone. We need one another.”  

Scott Benson serves as the Detroit City Councilperson for District 3 and is a champion for Kwanzaa in Detroit.     

Benson told the Michigan Chronicle that Kwanzaa is an “extraordinarily important” celebration and the upcoming display in the city embodies culture and community. 

“It is a great way to incorporate the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which can be adopted and used and applied to everyone’s life,” Benson said, adding that the downtown holiday celebration adds a special touch to the city. “Detroit is such a diverse city and it is important that everyone’s culture can be displayed. … We have a giant red kettle, a Menorah, and now the world’s largest Kinara.” 

“The Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara is an embodiment of the principles of Kwanzaa – the unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, commitment to purpose and creativity it took to organize this effort has been a display of extraordinary faith,” said Gregory McKenzie, project manager.  

A team of professional architects, engineers and electricians have developed a design that features a durable framed wall structure counterweighted by two tons of metal plates to ensure the sculpture can withstand the high Detroit River and skyscraper-induced wind loads at Campus Martius. The design and construction of the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara have been carried out in coalition with Black architects, engineers, carpenters and contractors from the local Detroit community. Of notable mention are Develop Architecture and JMS Engineering Services, both of which are Detroit-based firms. “Each one teach one is what the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara is all about; from grassroots to global,” said Marvis Cofield, CEO and founder of Alkebu-lan Village.  

Created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, the celebration of Kwanzaa was formed as a way to help Black people identify with their African heritage during the Christmas holiday.    

The holiday encompasses symbols that include a decorative mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed, corn (Muhindi) and other crops, a candle holder kinara with seven candles (Mishumaa Saba), a communal cup for pouring libation (Kikimbe cha Umoja), gifts (Zawadi), a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red and green flag. The celebratory colors were chosen for their symbolic nature: red for the struggle of Africans and their descendants, green for the land and the future, and black representing the people.    

Lisa Reynolds, principal at the Detroit School of Arts, celebrates Kwanzaa and told the Michigan Chronicle previously that the holiday is about family and tradition.    

“It has made us go back to family – our small communities,” Reynolds said.    

During the holiday, each of the seven days is dedicated to recognize one of the seven principles called the Nguzo Saba.  

In addition to being the point of origin for the city’s coordinate system, Campus Martius symbolizes the vitality of the city’s public sphere. Year-round festivities draw hundreds of thousands of Detroiters and visitors to this special place in the city’s center. The Kinara will reside (seasonally) in the SW Garden of Campus Martius and will add a new monument for the celebration of Black life, community and culture to the park’s holiday landscape, alongside the Christmas tree and Menorah erected each year.  

“We’re expanding our recognition of the various holiday traditions in Campus Martius. The holidays are a joyful reminder that being together brings us closer as a community,” said Eric B. Larson, Downtown Detroit Partnership’s CEO. “Adding the Kinara to Downtown’s celebration of the holidays will be an opportunity for more personal connections to what makes the holiday season so meaningful.”  

“Detroit is a city that embraces its rich diversity. We are thrilled that this year we will have on display the world’s largest Kinara, which will join the world’s largest Menorah and our state’s largest Christmas tree, as people of all backgrounds come downtown to celebrate their faith and culture this holiday season,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “Displaying this 30-foot Kinara at Campus Martius is a perfect way to demonstrate our city’s pride in African-American culture and the seven principles of Kwanzaa.”  

Reynolds adds that the African-centric holiday is all about realizing how every person is “intersected and important.”   

Also, for those who have a broken or fractured family, the holiday can reveal hurts and hardships when reflecting inwardly but there is always an “opportunity to heal.”    

Those interested in making a tax-free donation to help build and manage the upkeep of this first of its kind Kwanzaa Kinara may go to: or request a sponsorship package via email at 

With support from the City of Detroit Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity Department, on December 26 at 5:00 p.m., the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara will be officially introduced to the public in a small ceremony.   

Visit for information about the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara. For more details about this project and upcoming events, contact Gregory McKenzie at (313) 578-1300 or email at 





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