Though not as popular as Christmas or Hanukah, a remembrance of Kwanzaa is as important today as ever before. Perhaps, even more so.
For those who are not familiar with Kwanzaa, it is an annual weeklong celebration beginning Dec. 26 and ending on Jan. 1 with gift-giving and a feast.
It is celebrated in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and other countries of the African diaspora.
It was conceptually birthed by Dr. Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in the U.S. in 1966. While the celebration is Pan-African in both style and content, it is a celebration that all people can participate.
Kwanzaa stands on seven main principles.
1.Umoja: Unity. We are to unify the family, community, nation, and our people, if success is to ever be a reality. Parents need to be parents, community leaders must lay aside petty issues and unite the community, and education must become more than learning answers for a standardized test. Umoja understands that united we stand, divided we fall.
2. Kujichagulia: Self-determination. We have the responsibility and power to create the fundamentally new in our lives. We may have been victimized by systems and powers, but we can re-create our own destiny. Our corporate and individual motto must be ‘I can do all things.’
3. Ujima: Collective work and responsibility. We must build and maintain our community together. Clearly, we have a call stop the violence and dehumanization we experience our community.
If city budgets don’t include community-oriented policing and community building, build our own protocol and demand that it be observed.
If poor and children of color are behind educationally, set up our own tutoring programs in these churches that keep asking for offerings for the “building fund.”
Feed ourselves, grow our own food. Build co-ops for child-care and health resource lcenters.
We have the talent. Do we have the desire?
4. Ujamaa: Collective economics. Most black dollars leave our community and support our communities.
This principle encourages the communities of color to invest black and brown dollars in the community and build and grow national and global networks of economic opportunity.
For example, one of the first things the black community did after slavery was to build black educational centers and black businesses. Education and economics make a once-enslaved people free.
5. Nia: Purpose. We must regain the purpose of our lives. It is not to be gangsters and drug dependents.
Aspiring to be the “black bourgeoisie” cannot the goal. Our purpose is to live in a manner that honors our ancestors and inspires our children and their children toward greatness.
Our purpose must be to live with moral integrity and reject the seduction of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, materialism and militarism.
6. Kuumba: Creativity. This principle is obvious: we are compelled to make the community, nation, and our people better than how we found them by employing the best of our creativity and imagination. If what we have used before has not worked, try something else. Imagine the unimaginable.
7. Imani: Faith. I believe that faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen. It was the faith we possessed by the Christianity of Africa and not of the oppressor, that caused us to believe that trouble will not last always.
Because we realized that “I am because we are,” we maintained a faith in others who were our color and those that were not, in other faith practitioners (some Christian and some who were not).
The only criterion was, ’do you dared to catch the vision of a fundamentally new society?’ If so, faith will take us through.
We had a faith in the God of our weary years and our silent tears, not prosperity ministry, exclusion and privilege. It was and is the faith that empowered us in our worst times and keeps alive the hope of better days to come.
This same kind of faith calls us to hold on to it today.
In this time of division, hostility, and despair I believe celebrating Kwanzaa can give us the occasion to re-capture a greater sense of self, purpose, community, and the God who sets at liberty those who are oppressed.
In doing so we may re-imagine ourselves as victors and not victims, as an empowered, united community, and not each other’s mortal enemies.
Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and a joyous, empowering Kwanzaa.
About the Author:
Rev. Dawson was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Missouri (MU). He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College in Missouri.
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