Houston Forward Times

31 December 2013 Written by  Jeffrey L. Boney

KWANZAA: MORE THAN JUST A HOLIDAY

Kwanzaa family celebrationAs we take the time to reflect on this past year, we say a heartfelt goodbye to 2013 and an optimistic hello to 2014.  As we approach the celebration of another New Year, we find ourselves counting down with the rest of humanity; watching the ball drop in Time Square; and anxiously awaiting a chance to wish one another a "Happy New Year."

This is a joyous time of the year for many of us, because it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the previous years’ successes and failures, while taking the time to strategize on how we plan to do things differently and take advantage of all opportunities that come our way in the New Year.

One of the most impactful holidays of the year takes place between Christmas and New Years and should be a pre-cursor that is taught and embraced by all members of the African American community. That holiday is called Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa, which is held December 26-January 1 of every year, is a holiday that was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966, as the first specifically African American holiday.  Karenga said his goal for creating Kwanzaa was to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society."

Kwanzaa celebrates the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba, which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world."  African Americans are encouraged to incorporate the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa into our hectic lives – Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason.

If there is anything that the Black community needs now more than ever, it is unity and a set of foundational principles and values to live by and teach our children.  It hurts my heart to see so many African Americans treat this culturally rich holiday as if it is some life-threatening disease and publicly dismiss Kwanzaa by seeking to marginalize the holiday and its’ Seven Principles.  Kwanzaa, if embraced, has and can do so much to change our paradigm about ourselves and about empowering our own communities. It always amazes me how most African Americans in the United States will embrace every other  manufactured American holiday like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, without question, but when it comes to a holiday developed to embrace our African roots, they seek to marginalize it.

For many, I can chalk it up to their lack of familiarity or ignorance of what the Kwanzaa holiday actually is.  For others, I don’t have as much empathy; they’re wrong and should be called on it.

It’s easy to marginalize and mock something that you don’t understood and something that has not been embraced by the masses. Just because the dominant society in America doesn’t embrace something, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.

I would like ANY African American to tell me what is wrong with embracing the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa that include:

Day 1: Umoja (Unity) - To strive for and maintain unity in our family, community, nation and race.

Day 2: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Day 3: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.

Day 4: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) - To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses, and to profit from them together.

Day 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.

Day 6: Kuumba (Creativity) - To always do as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and more beneficial than we inherited it.

Day 7: Imani (Faith) - To believe with all our hearts in God, in our people, in our parents, in our teachers, in our leaders and in the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

See what I mean? Who wouldn’t want to embrace a holiday that is powerful, meaningful and impactful as Kwanzaa, which was birthed out of the Civil Rights struggle in the 60’s and 70’s?   I would really need a good reason, to be honest, for someone to seek to discredit and marginalize these sound and much-needed principles.

It’s absolutely okay to embrace Kwanzaa and not be ashamed to do so.  You are not going to catch a disease or get struck down by lightning for doing so. Most of us celebrated the manufactured Christmas holiday recently and if Jesus can be praised during that manufactured Christmas holiday, He can also be praised during a celebration of Kwanzaa. There is no timetable on when you should or shouldn’t worship God and there is nothing in a handbook that says you can’t worship God or acknowledge Jesus during Kwanzaa. Jewish people celebrate and attach themselves to their historical and foundational roots every year.  They celebrate Passover, Hanukkah, and Good Friday, etc., yet embrace their culture roots, while honoring God.

We connect ourselves to groups, organizations and causes every day, whether it is religion, politics, educational institutions, fraternities, sororities, etc.; so there is no need for Black people to seek to disparage Kwanzaa through creating discord or publicly berating a holiday that simply seeks to empower our community collectively in several much-needed areas.

So, whenever you hear somebody dissing Kwanzaa, I hope this article helps you communicate effectively to them, how Kwanzaa is more than just a holiday, it is necessary for our survival as a people.  We can celebrate Kwanzaa and embrace its’ principles every week, not just between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper.  Jeffrey is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance.  If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .