When I was a child, there was a woman in my (predominantly Black) church named Mama J. At the end of every year, Mama J gathered all of the kids together and created short presentations to acknowledge Kwanzaa on the Sunday before the holiday. I used to get the feeling that the people in my church allowed her to create these presentations because she was part of the family and people loved her – but that they didn’t otherwise care or feel that Kwanzaa was important. I did not grow up celebrating Kwanzaa, and as far as I know, the overwhelming majority of Black people do not celebrate it, either.
Over the past five or six years, however, my interest in celebrating Kwanzaa has tremendously grown. There are a lot of misconceptions about what Kwanzaa is and is not, but I understand why Mama J was so adamant about celebrating it. She wanted to instill in us a sense of self-worth in a world that so often – and in so many ways – tells us that we are inferior and worthless.
During this time of the #blacklivesmatter movement, when Black people all around the country are realizing that we do not matter to those in power in our nation, it’s important that we begin to take more of an initiative in defining ourselves. We are not all poor, we are not lazy, we are not morally deficient, we are not criminals, we are not unintelligent, we are not ugly, and we are not dirty. There is nothing wrong with us, except that we have allowed others to define us in this way for too long.
For me, Kwanzaa represents an intentional move toward learning about, owning, and celebrating my heritage. It represents an opportunity to positively contribute to the Black community and change the narrative that says we are uneducated criminals whose only ability to fit into society or find success is through rap or sports. Last year, I posted a Facebook status for each day of Kwanzaa that explains the Kwanzaa principle of the day. This year, I will spend a little more time elaborating on these principles and what they mean for me and for my family.
I can’t wait to get started! Have a wonderful Christmas and a great start to Hanukkah, and after that I hope you’ll follow along!