What follows is a re-post from December 29, 2011 on another blog of mine:
When I was younger, there was a woman in my church who wanted the church to celebrate Kwanzaa and always tried to get us church kids to participate in Kwanzaa activities during service. She was given permission to do this, but I always had the impression that no one in the church really cared about Kwanzaa – they just didn’t want to hurt her feelings. As I grew older, I realized that there really aren’t a whole lot of Black people who celebrate Kwanzaa, and that it is more often made fun of and regarded as trivial or stupid than anything else.
Kwanzaa was developed in the 60s(?) by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a part of the Pan-African movement, and as an attempt to bring Black folks together in support of each other and of the Black community as a whole. It is not an actual holiday in any African nation, but the it was derived from the many different harvest-time traditions that stem from the different countries in Africa.
I believe that Dr. Karenga was/is an Atheist, and Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday so that anyone can celebrate it – regardless of their religious leaning. The holiday lasts for seven days – between December 26 and January 1 each year, and on each day of Kwanzaa a candle is lit, a new principle is recited and taught, and educational/homemade/practical gifts are exchanged. On the last day of Kwanzaa, I believe a traditional African meal is prepared and friends and family can get together to throw down on some good food.
There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, collectively referred to as the Nguzo Saba – which simply means “Seven Principles” in Swahili.
–Umoja, or Unity.
–Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination.
–Ujima, or Collective Work and Responsibility.
–Ujaama, or Cooperative Economics.
–Nia, or Purpose.
–Kuumba, or Creativity
–Imaani, or Faith.
Although I was among the ranks of those who made fun of Kwanzaa when I was younger, I find myself more interested in it now as an adult. And yet, because of the stigma surrounding it, I feel as though it’s going to be quite a hard practice to get started. Already, my family laughs at me for even having the interest!
I feel that the Nguzo Saba are important principles for the Black community to take seriously. And I’m not saying that there aren’t any African-Americans who already live by these principles, but let’s be honest… I really think that the Nguzo Saba – if taken seriously – could help us to get ourselves out of poverty, ignorance, and this whole ‘hood mentality’ thing that we have going on. I think that if we were more self-determined, we could get out of this defeatist funk that we’ve been in for the past hundred years or so… we could invest in our own businesses, in our education, in our young boys who are being lost to crime and murder. We could see a rise in fathers who stick around and women who work together and not against each other (which is probably a problem with all women – no matter what ethnic group they belong to). We could show our children that they don’t have to grow up and be a famous athlete or entertainer in order to “make it,” that there are just as many opportunities for Blacks to be doctors, scientists, businesspeople, and lawyers – if that’s what they want to do.
So, this is what Kwanzaa means to me. It’s an opportunity to share the “good news” with my community and future children that your opportunities for success in life are not limited to drug-dealing, gang banging, rapping, and shooting hoops (not that there’s anything wrong with the last two). It’s an opportunity to bridge together those in our community who have done well with those who are still struggling. It’s a chance to ask – How can I help my community to better itself? How can I be for my people and not embarassed by them? All in all, I don’t see why anyone would not want to participate in Kwanzaa – not just during the Kwanzaa holiday – but by living out its principles throughout the year.
And since Kwanzaa wraps up on New Year’s Day – it’s the perfect New Year’s resolution.