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  • Monica Knight

Kwanzaa — A Celebration of African American Culture

Updated: Dec 25, 2020

Peace & Conciliation Project Board Member Monica Knight and Peace & Conciliation Project volunteer and benefactor James Knight share insights on the importance and meaning of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa … Yay! Or Nah!

By Monica Knight

Question is, why? Celebrating … really observing … Kwanzaa don’t cost you nothing. You can make it out to be whatever you want. The only cost is time, dedication to come up with stuff to talk to your family about, and maybe willingness to get together on purpose. Heck, you can even incorporate TV and smart devices to give it some spice.

Let’s talk about time. Most people set out to do this thing every night starting on December 26 through January 1. In my family, we may take 30 minutes to talk about the value of the day. We may take an hour. Sometimes we do it all in one day and not each night. It’s up to you really. By the way … in case yo innanet ain’t working … here are the values/principles:

Unity — Joining together as a family, community and race

Self-determination — Responsibility for one's own future

Collective Work and Responsibility Building the community together and solving any problems as a group

Cooperative Economics The community building and profiting from its own businesses

Purpose The goal of working together to build community and further the our culture

Creativity Using new ideas to create a more beautiful and successful community

Faith Honoring our ancestors, traditions and leaders and celebrating past triumphs over adversity

How about dedication. You may actually have to think about this thing before you start. You have to figure out how you’re going to talk about examples of Unity from your parents' time or your grand-parents’ time to share with your kids. You will want to share examples of how you work to be a family right now … how important being a family is to you. And to top it off, you will need to commit to showing them how to be unified in the coming year. Isn’t it sweet that you can just go to Amazon to buy gifts to show your dedication to your loved ones? In that regard, Christmas seems waaaayyy easier. IJS …

Last thing … willingness to get together on purpose. 2020 has given me more together time with my family than I ever thought I needed, LOL. Seriously, it hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve enjoyed hearing how they engage with the world, how they take care of themselves, and how they think about me, about our family on the daily. We didn’t always get together on purpose. Just a quick check in here and there. Gotta eat dinner … let’s do it together type of thing.

Kwanzaa is ON PURPOSE. You have to want to cherish memories from your past, from our collective pasts. You have to be vulnerable and open about your current struggles and accountable to those you love regarding your hopes and dreams for the future.

Kwanzaa, Seriously

By James Knight

Curious about Kwanzaa? Can’t get the hang of that Google thing to find out for yourself? No sweat! We’ve got you covered.

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African-American Culture. It was invented by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 and is celebrated by millions around the world. It recognizes and celebrates the unique path that African-Americans have had and continue to have in America. Kwanzaa starts on December 26 and runs to January 1. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa. They are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, purpose, and faith. Each night, friends and families get together and discuss personal examples of the principle of the day from the past and the present and to plan for how the principle can be used over the next year.

That is the whole of Kwanzaa.

As an African-American, celebrating Kwanzaa is a beautiful and powerful tradition that you can and should pass down to your family. One which uncovers the pain and honors the triumph of our ancestors who fought to hold on to their traditions after being kidnapped and enduring the horrors that followed in slavery and the events after. Though we are presently in a much better place than our ancestors journeyed through, we are still subject to discrimination, mass incarceration and police brutality. Through all of that, we survived and continue to thrive. We are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, college professors, accountants, entrepreneurs, generals, astronauts, poets, and any other profession which you can imagine. Despite the best efforts of people who denigrated us and sought to deny our very humanity, we continue thrive and grow to new heights each day. In short, this is cause for celebration.

To be clear, you do not have to be African-American to celebrate Kwanzaa. Anyone who wants to participate in the celebration of African American culture with the goal of assisting African-Americans in achieving their goals should be welcomed with opened arms. Anyone who tries to prevent anyone from celebrating Kwanzaa because they aren’t the right ethnicity or hue is short-sighted and is not working in the best interest of African-Americans or the nation

People celebrate Kwanzaa because they believe that doing so is important. They believe taking a week out of each year to discuss African-American culture and values will be a benefit to them personally and to their families. These conversations should be had constantly, but oftentimes life has a habit of getting in the way. Kwanzaa allows family to share their history and to acknowledge growth and challenges while preparing to do better in the coming year.

Unlike Black History Month and Juneteenth, Kwanzaa does not just acknowledge our past, but focuses more on the present and future. By discussing the present, we are taking time to acknowledge what challenges we are facing at that current moment. Acknowledging the unique challenges that we face as a people enables us to support one another and plan for the coming year.

Kwanzaa ends on January 1, New Year’s Day, when many people are making personal resolutions for the coming year. In Kwanzaa, we are making plans and goals. We focus on specific and measurable ways to live out the principle of the day for the entire next year. Kwanzaa participants provide support and accountability to each other to aid in each other’s goals with the aim of not just making ourselves better but also strengthening our families, our community, and the nation. Kwanzaa’s focus on the past, present, and future makes it a unique, empowering, and transformative holiday that has no equal.

Kwanzaa is celebrated in many ways around the world. When you celebrate Kwanzaa, make the celebration yours. If the seven principles are honored and discussed each of the seven days, no one can tell you that the way you celebrate Kwanzaa is wrong. As is the case with any holiday, do what makes you feel comfortable and enjoy the celebration.

If you were intrigued by anything mentioned in the article, I challenge you to celebrate Kwanzaa this year. I guarantee you will be surprised by what is said, what is felt, and the impact on you and your family

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