NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Holiday celebrations continued Thursday as thousands celebrated the first day of Kwanzaa with bar crawls in Harlem and Brooklyn.

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrating black culture, heritage and family. In New York City, thousands of people came together to mark the occasion with a bar crawl.

“We’ve been doing this for three years. It’s just a great chance to network and start the Kwanzaa celebration,” participant Tashena Heath said.

“Just here to celebrate black unity and black love,” said another participant.

New York’s fourth annual Kwanzaa Crawl kicked off with a ceremony recognizing the holiday’s seven core principals of African heritage that include unity, self-determination and purpose.

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrating black culture, heritage and family. In New York City, thousands of people came together to mark the occasion with a bar crawl. (Credit: CBS2)

Then the crawlers were off to their first stop. But the true meaning of the Kwanzaa Crawl goes far beyond bar-hopping.

“The day after Christmas, people generally do not go out and really pay their money, so right now, we’re saying we want to give back to our community to make sure those businesses strive,” said organizer Kimberly Peters.

Organizers call the crawl a “party with a purpose” because each and every one of Brooklyn‘s 35 stops and Harlem‘s six stops are black-owned businesses.

In New York City alone, the number of black businesses significantly declined between 2007 and 2012. The crawl’s founders attribute that to gentrification.

So in 2016, the crawl was started to prevent businesses from shuttering — and promote economic growth within the community.

“As a black business owner, we kind of struggle a little bit,” says Khalid Louis, owner of Dusk Til Dawn. “It’s a bad thing to say that ’cause there’s not that many of us. We try to support each other and keep us in business.”

Louis says he hopes the crawl puts his relatively new bar on the map and exposes it to new clientele.

The crawl does have a great track record. Last year alone, participating businesses in Brooklyn and Harlem made a total of $250,000.

The last day of Kwanzaa is Jan. 1.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by activist and California State University professor Dr. Maulana Karenga to bring blacks together after the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

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