What started in 2016 as a response to the wave of gentrification that was wiping out black-owned restaurants and bars throughout New York City has turned into a movement — and it’s themed around Kwanzaa.

On Thursday, December 26th, the first day of Kwanzaa, more than 5,000 people will bar crawl in Brooklyn and Harlem for the ultimate “party with a purpose.”

The celebration of Kwanzaa asks us to evoke and focus on 7 principles (Nguzo Saba) throughout the Black American commonwealth for 7 days(Umoja: Unity, Kujichagulia: self-determination, Ujima: collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa: cooperative economics, Nia:purpose, Kuumba: creativity, Imani: faith), from December 26th through January 1st.

“Kwanzaa Crawl embodies all seven principles of Kwanzaa through harnessing Black buying power and bringing awareness to Black-owned businesses while also spreading unity and joy to our community,” says founder Kerry Coddett and her sister Krystal Stark. “In 2018, more than 4,100 Kwanzaa Crawlers helped to generate over $250,000 in revenue in one day for the participating businesses. That’s what Black Power and Black unity looks like!”

Last year, more than 4,100 attendees hopped around to 30 restaurants and bars that participated in the crawl. This year, the organizers have pledged to give back even more — with a portion of their proceeds donated to nonprofits. This year’s recipients include Barbershop Books, an organization that creates reading spaces in barbershops to get more young black boys to read; and Seeds of Fortune, a scholarship program for young women of color. “We are always looking to engage and support organizations focused on the upliftment of young Black people through education and financial literacy,” says Stark. “The organizations we are donating to this year represent what we think of as a continued movement toward educational and restorative justice for us, by us.”

Now in its fourth year could they have imagined that Kwanzaa Crawl would become a cultural staple in NYC? “Although we did set out to create a lasting change with Kwanzaa Crawl, I’m not sure we saw it growing at the rate it has,” says Coddett. “It has been absolutely incredible to have the outpouring of support that we consistently get — from the people who return as Crawlers each year, to the dozens of venues who open their doors to us, to our partners and volunteers — it takes a village. It really just shows that there’s a hunger for this type of event in our community.”

But with the holidays being one of the most festive (and crime ridden) times of year throughout the city, one can only imagine how they keep an event with over 5,000 people safe. “We govern ourselves in the spirit of community and uplift, that in and of itself lends to an environment where people feel safe and free,” says Coddett. “It’s all based on respecting and trusting ourselves and our people. We don’t feel like there is a heightened risk or safety concerns involved with this. That said, we also do our due diligence as we go about planning every aspect of the event.”

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