The seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa is partly a celebration of Black economic power, embodying principles that include cooperative economics, collective work and self-determination.
Kicking off on Dec. 26 and lasting seven days through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is in its 53rd year as a pan-African holiday. It was established in the 1960s as a way to help African Americans reconnect with African roots and heritage.
A celebration of family, community and culture, Kwanzaa is the brainchild of Dr. Maulana Karenga — a professor and department chairman of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach.
Karenga identified seven principles of Kwanza (Nguzo Saba) that he urges African Americans to practice, developing a plan to repair, renew and remake the world.
These are the seven principles of Kwanzaa with their Swahili translations:
1. Umoja: Unity – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
2. Kujichagulia: Self-Determination – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
3. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility – To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together.
4. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics – To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
5. Nia: Purpose – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6. Kuumba: Creativity – To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Imani: Faith – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
In his book, “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture,” (1997, University of Sankore Press), Karenga warned against commercializing Kwanzaa.
“The challenges, for the African in America community as well as African communities everywhere, is to resist the corporate commercialization of Kwanzaa; to affirm and hold to the essential meaning of Kwanzaa and refuse to cooperate with the corporate drive to dominate and redefine it and make it simply another holiday to maximize sales,” he wrote.
Karenga said that “Kwanzaa is above all a cultural practice not a commercial one and external and internal attempts to redefine Kwanzaa in commercial terms are not defining Kwanzaa, but rather their commercial interest in it.”
Today in Brooklyn and Harlem, more than 5,000 people are expected to participate in Kwanzaa Crawl, a now-annual event that started in 2016 as a response to gentrification wiping out Black-owned restaurants and bars throughout New York City. The crawl has turned into a movement themed around Kwanzaa, Essence reported.
“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,” event founder Kerry Coddett and her sister Krystal Stark told Essence. “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!”
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Part of the Kwanzaa celebration involves lighting red, Black and green candles, reflecting the Pan-African movement and representing unity for people of African descent worldwide. Black is for the people, red for the blood that unites people of African ancestry, and green is for the land of Africa. Candles are lit each night.
Over the years, the celebration of Kwanzaa has grown. It is practiced all over the world and more people are learning of its traditions each year.
In a Dec. 19 column for The Chicago Crusader, Dr. Conrad Worrill wrote about the real meaning of Kwanzaa for him:
“We must control what we create — that is, we must control all aspects of our culture. Our songs, dances, writings, and art must be protected from hostile and thieving aliens (internal and external). No longer should other races define who we are and what we should be, just because they have the wealth to exploit what we create. We must preserve the Sacredness and Integrity of Kwanzaa.Dr. Conrad Worrill, professor emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies
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