November 30,2011

A Celebration for Our People, by Our People

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

The holiday season is filled with so many things to celebrate, that I, like many of you, become completely engrossed in its magnificence. Who wouldn’t? People seem different, happier and more pleasant to each other, and more interested in their fellow man. For African-Americans, the holiday season gives us an opportunity to fortify not only our religious beliefs, but also our cultural history and traditions. Kwanzaa, which is celebrated from December 26th through January 1st, is a special celebration of our customs and values that deserves some special recognition.

Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 after its creator, Dr. Maulana Karenga, recognized the need to impress upon those of us who are of African descent the values that should govern our existence. He established a set of principles, the Kawaida, which means “normal” in Swahili, and central to those principles is a doctrine called the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles of Blackness. This doctrine offers direction to the areas of life to which we should lend our focus.

On each new Kwanzaa day, celebrants commemorate the Nguzo Saba principle of the day. Each principle is commemorated in a manner that helps us think about what we can do to help the black community.

The principles are as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichaguilia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, to name ourselves, to create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To collectively build and maintain our communities, and to collectively own and solve the problems of our communities.
  • Ujamaa (Family): To believe in the concepts of family and shared understanding.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our joint vocation the building and strengthening of our communities in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To always do as much as we can, in any way we can, to leave our communities and environments more beautiful and bountiful than we received them.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe, with all our hearts, in our people, our parents, our teachers, and our leaders, and the righteousness and inevitable victory of our struggle

To observe these principles, decorations like red, green and black chain links are made to demonstrate that the struggles of our people hang like garland. Small gifts are given to children each day, things like pens, pencils, books, and crafting materials, but they should always include a book and a heritage symbol; the book emphasizes African values and traditions, and the heritage symbol reaffirms the African commitment to history and tradition. A kinara, a candle holder with seven candles, is placed on a decorative table mat, and a new candle is lit is each night. In addition to the kinara, other symbols such as crops, a communal cup, and kente cloth are also placed on the mat.In our limited time on this Earth, it is important that we leave future generations with the values we want them to carry throughout their lives. Imagine the state of accomplishment and peace we could achieve as a people if we applied the Seven Principles to our daily living and our personal attitudes toward life! Embracing Kwanzaa traditions does not mean abandoning Christmas traditions; it means doing your part to offer your family and loved ones the Kwanzaa experience: a celebration of our people, by our people.