I've long been drawn to Kwanzaa, the deeply wise seven-day celebration that began Dec. 26.

Kwanzaa, the first official African-American holiday, began 50 years ago to celebrate seven principles: family and community unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

As I culled a year's worth of columns to update you on a few, I now know why I was drawn to this particular collection. Each story rose up due to one or more of Kwanzaa's cherished values.

Shoes, socks for kids of Kinshasa

Albert Nyembwe received a long-awaited phone call in September from the principal of the College Toute Grace, a K-12 school in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 730 pairs of shoes and 223 pairs of socks had arrived safely.

I wrote about Nyembwe, a Twin Cities French teacher, after he collected hundreds of pairs of shoes through his Blaine-based nonprofit, the Cilongo Foundation. But, with an unpredictable postal system, how would he get them to the children of Kinshasa, many of whom walk miles to school barefoot? In stepped the Northfield Rotary Club, which partnered with St. Paul-based Books for Africa, which makes frequent shipments to schools in Congo. "It took a lot of coordination, and we had to draw a flow chart at one point," said Rotarian Betsy Spethmann.

Readers also stepped in, donating additional shoes and socks that, along with $165,000 in donated books, arrived at the start of the school year, to the delight of the school principal. Nyembwe also was delighted. "Rejoice!" he said. "Rejoice again!" (To read the column, go to tinyurl.com/luyb2mf.)

True patriot in St. Louis Park

Warren Bushway, featured on Independence Day, continues to fulfill his patriotic duty. Every morning and evening, rain, sun or windchill, he raises and lowers the flag outside his St. Louis Park home. "This morning, the whole rope was froze," he told me in mid-December. "I did get it up and I got it down. It was a son-of-a-gun." Bushway, who turns 94 in January, will continue the ritual until further notice. "Even if it's below zero," he said, "I'll be out there." (tinyurl.com/kychfqn)

He kilt it

Scott Taylor kept his promise to celebrate his 60th birthday, and his Scottish heritage, by wearing a kilt part of every day in 2014 (assuming he doesn't let me down between today and Wednesday). Taylor, winning in Kwanzaa's creativity category, made the decision in the summer of 2013, before last winter delivered 50 subzero days.

The year has been filled with wardrobe challenges, bad puns, funny stares and touching moments. Waiting for a flight, he was approached by a woman curious about his family's tartan. Four generations of her family, she told Taylor, were slaves to another Scottish family. "Two Scots with very different heritages," he said, adding that they talked for a long time. "The conversation never would have happened had I been dressed in jeans." (tinyurl.com/oyntoan)

Art and immigration

Maximino Garcia-Marin, who created the powerful art show "UNdocumented" as his senior project at Augsburg College, graduated in May. He's looking for graphic design work and still worries every day about whether President Obama's proposed immigration reform will be lasting.

"I'm staying positive," said Garcia-Marin, whose show featured a wall of 4,900 stenciled blindfolded faces, each representing 3,000 undocumented immigrants.

The show was personal. Garcia-Marin, who has a work permit, is still "terrified" by unannounced visits to his apartment complex by immigration officials. "I'm hoping in the next elections something will be done to get our family a route to citizenship." (tinyurl.com/po6m4ah)

A poignant celebration

Dave Nelson of Minnetonka died at home Oct. 4, surrounded by his family. Illness didn't keep Nelson from wanting to celebrate his 55th wedding anniversary with his wife, Jan, in January. Learning about his liquid diet limitations, McCormick and Schmick's chef Shannon Nelson (no relation) and executive sous chef Paul Neu got to work. As Jan sipped Champagne and dined on a salad and filet mignon, Dave enjoyed clam chowder, puréed beet salad, walleye and beef, created in a blender. He loved those beets best, returning many times to buy large quantities.

After Dave's memorial service, Jan took her family back to McCormick and Schmick's in Edina for dinner, and ordered a large plate of beet salad, which was "shared by all, with much happiness and remembering." (tinyurl.com/nxha7pa)

The flavor of success

Vicie Williams is tasting success. Williams is a former felon turned businesswoman who has created the world's most tantalizing fruit-flavored barbecue sauces, including kiwi and coconut. After a health scare and red tape threatened to derail her ambitious plan for a commercial production plant on Minneapolis' North Side, an anonymous couple reached out with a $10,000 gift to give her Sister Chris's Fruit-Flavored Products LLC a boost (sisterchrisproducts.com).

Williams now has her wholesale license; Fischer's United Supply Inc. of Minneapolis just manufactured 450 holiday BBQ gift sets, and, last week, Williams found a 30,000-square-foot building on Washington Avenue N. If she can find funding, she hopes to transform the building into a sweet job creator for others.

"Since getting out of jail in 2007, my life has been a wonderful experience, even with the falling down and letdowns," said Williams, who is led by a strong Christian faith. "It's all been so I can be who I am supposed to become." (tinyurl.com/mwhtpyc)

A son's novel gift

Mary Petrie still wakes up every morning "filled with purpose," thanks to a spectacular gift from her son Stryker Thompson. Stryker went on a stealth mission last summer to get his mother's long-tucked-away novel, "At the End of Magic," published. "The Today Show" website picked up the story, and Petrie's former literary agent is now interested in her upcoming nonfiction book about online education.

She'll be reading from "Magic" on Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Inver Hills Community College bookstore. Stryker, an engineering major, has wrapped up a highly successful first semester at the University of Minnesota, to absolutely no one's surprise. (tinyurl.com/m2qwhap)

Advancing literacy

Albert Briscoe, founder of To Succeed You Must Read (tosucceedyoumustread.org), was inundated with generosity after sharing his story of realizing, in prison, that focusing on literacy was the one sure way out of the school-to-prison pipeline for other young people of color. From donations of money and books, he's building a student library and youth resource center at Minneapolis College Prep. The charter school also will offer after-school programming every day of the school year beginning Jan. 5. (tinyurl.com/oktcmqy).

Grandma Gretta's guidance

Gretta Freeman (aka Grandma Gretta) is known around the world for her Grandma's Roundtable.

For 18 years Freeman, of Golden Valley, has gathered together her grandchildren, now grown, to offer loving, candid and nonjudgmental guidance. A newspaper in South Korea picked up her story, and a Minnesota couple living in Slovakia plan to use her approach with youths at a community center they run there. Grandmothers locally have reached out for tips on starting their own roundtables.

"The whole thing has just overwhelmed me," Freeman said. It's simple, really. "My grandkids? They just trusted me. That's probably the key." (tinyurl.com/mf7w24k)


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