Is Kwanzaa Still Relevant?

29 Dec

Growing up we didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa and I didn’t know too many families that did.  Every once in a while my aunt would pull out her kinara and would decorate her shelf with plastic props to symbolize the harvest.  Of course I learned the diluted version of the meaning in school, but the true principles were never really taught to me from someone who was knowledgeable about the history or its practices.  I remember asking my mother to celebrate it because I wanted to get more gifts in the days following Christmas.  Kwanzaa was like a trivial made-up holiday.  I remember in the fifth grade, during our Kwanzaa “teaching” one of my black classmates yelled out “My mama said real Africans don’t even celebrate Kwanzaa, African Americans made it up to try to be like them”.  And trying to be like someone else was definitely something I was not.

Though the sentiment stuck with me for many years to follow, this year was a tad different.  I researched the meanings and teachings myself and I wanted to give my daughter an accurate view of what Kwanzaa was really intended to mean.  I don’t even think my 6 year-old’s school even acknowledged Kwanzaa within their Christmas and Hanukkah teachings.  In my attempt to expose my daughter to the principles I didn’t want to overwhelm her.  I’m sure she would have gave me the extreme side eye if I came out draped in kenti clothe and I’m sure my twins would have used the kinara to either gouge out an eye or burn down the house with the lit candles.  I wanted to keep it simple but still teach her about our culture and heritage.

Kwanzaa was developed by professor and activist Dr. Maulana Karenga, during the black nationalist movement in the 1960s.  This was a time when blacks began to stand up and advocate for their rights as Americans.  Kwanzaa commemorates it’s seven principles from December 26-January 1, they are: Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

After giving my daughter a crash course on the seven principles I took her to a Kwanzaa storytelling event performed by the Grios at our local Maya Angelou Public Library.  There was standing room only at the event.  There were old folks and young ones and the Grios entertained them all.  Sharing creative stories, songs and poems that related to the seven principles.  This exposure led my daughter to ask questions once we left.  She was curious about the stories that were told, the wardrobe that was worn and music that was played.  It was the perfect teaching tool.  So as I remind her each day about the principles she can apply in her everyday life, what’s most important that she takes away is the desire to want to learn, the pride for her cultural heritage and the commitment to her community.

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