Athenia Rodney of United for Brownsville was named a 2020 Robin Hood Hero. Photo: Robin Hood

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The recent winner of a Robin Hood ‘Hero of New York’ award is not done with her good works this year. Athenia Rodney, the founder and CEO of Umoja Events, has been busy organizing the Virtual Juneteenth Kwanzaa Festival and Market to help the community see out the year on a high. “Being able to see the Black community come together and empower each other is the reason I do this,” she said.
A previous Kwanzaa event held by Umoja Events, before it went virtual. Photo: Umoja Events
Earlier this month, the Brownsville wife, mom-of-three and entrepreneur was honored with a Robin Hood award for spending the last nine months tirelessly caring for her community through the pandemic, even as her family battled COVID-19, a fire and a stroke. But her work was not done there. The upcoming seven-day festival, hosted by Umoja and starting December 26, is set to celebrate Kwanzaa’s principles and the role they play in the Black community.
Rodney (r) at a previous event. Photo: Umoja Events
The Kwanzaa festival was originally founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a pushback on the commercialism of Christmas and a way for African Americans to celebrate the holiday through community building practices shared across the continent of Africa. While the festivities would typically be held in person, this is no typical year. The Virtual Juneteenth Kwanzaa Festival and Market has a jam-packed seven day schedule of fun for the whole family — all available from the safety of home. “We are celebrating Kwanzaa because it represents all things Black Culture,” Rodney said. “This year several small businesses have had to close down because they were not able to promote their business as they have in the past.”

As well as promoting Black vendors, the festival will focus on educating the mind, body and soul with Black professionals talking about topics like child mindfulness, financial preparation and body and beauty products. One talk will focus on COVID-19 from the perspective of Black nurses.

The roster also includes virtual workshops and lessons, presentations from local businesses and activities for kids and performances. For example, on the 26th kids can look forward to games and learning from 9 a.m. through 6 p.m. including Kwanzaa dances and songs, and making an African drum.
Vendors at a previous Umoja Events festival. Photo: Umoja Events
On the 28th the festival is running three “microlabs.” The day kicks off with a mindfulness for children workshop, followed by a summer soul food live tutorial with Chef Keesha O’Galdez aka Gourmet Diva in her home kitchen and a presentation from Kobla Tacuma Moats on the healing power of gardening. All of the online events are free, but anyone who RSVPs goes in the draw to win a $25 gift card. Umoja is also running a live auction through January 1 to raise money to give five $1,000 grants to small businesses registered for its 2021 Juneteenth celebration.
Athenia Rodney with her family. Photo: Robin Hood

“Because of the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to the small business community, we are fundraising to support our small business and youth entrepreneurs to get a step in the right financial direction with a small grant and community support,” Rodney said.

She said items to bid on include an at-home mushroom farm, Wakanda jewelry, a college preparation and mentor session, a live art picture, Kwanzaa ornaments and a vacation to Florida. “We promise there is something for everyone!”

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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1 Comment

  1. Karenga, the inventor of Kwanzaa, was convicted of beating a woman with an electrical cord, and burning her with a hot iron. He went to jail for this. Why are we honoring him and “whitewashing,” if you will, this fact? We are tearing down Confederate statues of men who owned slaves and brutalized women, and rightfully so! If you don’t want a double standard, if you don’t want to be labeled a hypocrite, then you should be in favor of removing Kwanzaa from the calendars of public schools and government offices. After all, you don’t want to teach our children that torturing women is just fine—do you?

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