How an American Created a Holiday that Celebrates a Sense of Community.

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

Written by: Jordan Bowles

Edited by: My Identity Mag Team

In honor of the festive holiday season approaching very soon, this article is dedicated to celebrating the richness of the Pan-African/African-American celebrated holiday #Kwanzaa. In order to give you a proper trip down memory lane to how this holiday got started, we must first give credit to where credit is due. The creation of this holiday actually began in the state of California, right here in the United States! The historical significance of this holiday’s creation is birthed from a difficult period that occurred in the United States. In 1965, in South Central Los Angeles, California, a six-day extremely violent riot, called the Watts Riot, was spurned by the unsolicited arrest by a Caucasian police officer of an African-American individual riding a motorcycle, on the charges of seemingly driving drunk. The motorcyclist, whose name was Marquette Frye, exchange with the officer was watched by a crowd of African-American observers who lived in the neighborhood by the name of Watts in the South Central Area. The animosity and tension spurned by the arrest caused the drawn-out riots in the area, that absolutely devastated the urban neighborhood.

In the aftermath of the riots, a sense of peace and stability within the African-American community was desperately needed, and in 1966, a solution was found. California State University’s Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was the chairman of the Black Studies at the university, devoted himself in doing research on vast African Tribes with unique harvest celebrations. Dr. Karenga then compiled the research he conducted and created the holiday of Kwanza, which is composed of the combination of different African traditional harvests celebrated by different tribes in Africa.

The name Kwanza means “first fruits” in Swahili. This was obviously in reference to the basis of the holiday being influenced by several harvest traditions celebrated by different tribes in Africa. The terms “harvest” and “first fruits” connote a sense of preserving that which is the most valuable and using it for the greater good.

The impact of the establishment of this holiday goes beyond initiating a much-needed sense of community and #culturalidentity among African-Americans (something that was relevant both back then and today), it also connects African-Americans back to the roots of their ancestors and what some might call “The Motherland.” Even though this rich holiday was created back in 1966, Dr. Karenga was ahead of his time with establishing the purpose behind the holiday, especially with its significance towards the Pan-African and African-American community. The Watts Riots of 1966 reflected an urgent need for the black community to come together to hold each other up against the oppressive forces outside of the community that tried to come against them. Today, however, the issue of systemic oppression from a dominant culture is prevalent today with movements such as #blacklivesmatter, there is an urgent need for #unity within the black community as well #unityindiversity.

The Seven Principles of Kwanza are a perfect representation of what needs to be established within the black community to have great support and encouragement for one another. The Seven Principles are as follows:

1. Umoja (Unity)

2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

5. Nia (Purpose)

6. Kuumba (Creativity)

7. Imani (Faith)

Each and every one of these principles are the basic pillars that are pivotal black community to form the basis of the kind of support that individuals within any cultural community should maintain. These principles may seem simple, but they are profound, and with Kwanzaa’s continued celebration even to this day, it is evident that these principles hold great truth and influence. When one places value on something (whether it is a person, community, object, building, etc…), then they invest in it, whether it is with money, time or whatever is necessary for it to receive the attention it needs.

The black community can apply this concept to itself by choosing to invest in black-owned businesses, educating individuals within the community on issues that directly affect their livelihood and well-being (i.e. politics, healthcare, the economy), and practicing communicating to each other in a healthy way (even if there are strong disagreements).

The holidays are a time for people to come together, for families to enjoy being with each other, and to be grateful for the things that we have (even the simple things, as those are usually the most valuable). The celebration of Kwanzaa places an emphasis on these ideals, especially as ways for the black community to value itself. It is essential in this day and age for communities, especially those of color, to establish a great sense of unity among each other. In this holiday season, celebrate with your families and all your wonderful traditions. However, I encourage you to talk to your neighbors and friends and discover how they celebrate the holidays!

The best way to establish unity among different cultures is to educate ourselves about those who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds than we do. After all, aren’t the holidays about giving? Give the greatest gift, by appreciating, celebrating and learning about all the beautiful cultures that inhabit our beautiful world. Have a happy holiday!

Top 10 Interesting Facts about Kwanzaa

10. The holiday is observed December 26-January 1

9. The seven candles represent the seven principles

8. The center black candle is lit first representing African people

7. The three red candles denotes the struggles or the blood that ties people of African Heritage

6. The three green candles signifies the hope from the struggles

5. Kwanzaa is a nonreligious celebration. Many African Americans, who observe Kwanzaa, also celebrate Christmas

4. Kwanzaa is a Swahili phrase meaning “fresh fruits”

3. The American spelling of Kwanzaa has and additional “a” while the motherland spelling is Kwanza.

2. Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie are among the celebrities who celebrate Kwanzaa

1. Even though Kwanzaa is entrenched in African culture, all ethnicities are welcomed to observe

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