Reflections on Kwanzaa
Updated: Dec 31, 2021
On a few, but memorable occasions around the holidays, people have wished me Happy Kwanzaa and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because though I was an immigrant who didn't know about or celebrate Kwaanza, I knew it was associated with Blackness and in a world that made Blackness bad, I didn't want the exclusivity of a separate holiday.
My negative reaction to Kwanzaa changed when I took the time to read about it and learned of the beauty and deep sense of longing for connection to Africa that birthed it. Started in 1966 by a black power activist and African-American Studies professor Maulana Karenga, this holiday is African-American heritage in its purest essence. The holiday draws its name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza which means first fruits and it is modeled after harvest celebrations that happen all across Africa. The Kwaanza altar is adorned with fruits, vegetables and other ornaments and symbols that are central to the family celebrating and the candles that sit on the Kinara (candle holder) are symbolically red, black and green, the colors of the African-American flag created by pan Africanist, Marcus Garvey.
Kwaanza has seven principals:
1. Umoja: Unity - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
2. Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
3. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and solve them together.
4. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
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.
6. Kuumba: Creativity - To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Imani: Faith - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
The Africa Expo started from the sacredness I saw in my generation's longing to connect to Africa. To nurture that connection, this brand calls us to support one another in our entrepreneurial and creative journeys (Ujamaa, principal four) and celebrates Black history and culture in all of its iterations all around the world. All of this is a reminder that being our authentic selves is best gift we can give ourselves.
Yes, Kwanzaa was made for Black people, but anyone can join in the celebration by attending a celebration in your city, by supporting Black businesses and by advocating for policies that allow do Black people live free.
Janjay Innis is the Founder of @The Africa Expo