Yes, Black America Still Observes Kwanzaa
Somewhat obscure tradition remains an influence in black communities this holiday season
Happy Kwanzaa! Or as it’s said in Swahili, “Here za, Kwanzaa!”
It might surprise many people in the post-Civil Rights Movement era to know that Kwanzaa, an African American holiday tradition created more than four decades ago, is celebrated, according to its creator, Dr. Maulana Karenga, by more than 28 million people around the world.
But the anecdotal estimate has been enough for President Barack Obama, who has annually released a statement marking the start of the seven-day observance, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
“Michelle and I extend our warm thoughts and best wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season,” the nation’s first African American president said in this year’s statement.
“It reminds us that though there is much to be thankful for we must recommit ourselves to building a country where all Americans have the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” the statement continues.
Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at the California State University-Long Beach, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this article, has said that Kwanzaa in 2012 is about reaffirming black identity and the community’s connection to pan-African culture.
“Kwanzaa is also a time of self-conscious recommitment to honor the awesome ancestral legacy left us by preserving and expanding it; to uphold the time resistant moral and cultural values that ground and guide us in our daily lives,” Karenga said in a Kwanzaa statement published in the "Los Angeles Sentinel" earlier this month.
Some within the African American community, who are lukewarm on Kwanzaa and admit to having only celebrated a few times when they were younger, believe the holiday has good intentions but is overshadowed by the other major Christian and Jewish holidays celebrated this time of year.
“I think it’s great, especially at the time [Kwanzaa] was created, that African Americans have a cultural balance,” said Damond Haynes, an instructor in the Junior Scholars program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.
Haynes does not celebrate Kwanzaa but says he would teach his two young daughters about it, on the chance they might want to pass the tradition along to their children.
“All of the other traditions during the holiday season have a very Euro-centric,” Haynes added. “Even if it’s once a year, it’s nice to have a connection to Africa and celebrate our roots.”
Kwanzaa, which in Swahili means “first fruits,” was created in 1966 and is said to come out of the Black Freedom Movement, aimed in part at maintaining the African American community’s connection to their African roots. Each day of the Kwanzaa week represents a principle: “Umoja,” or unity; “Kujichagulia,” or self-determination; “Ujima,” or collective work and responsibility; “Ujamaa,” or cooperative economics; “Nia,” or purpose; “Kuumba,” or creativity; and “Imani,” or faith. Customs within the Kwanzaa tradition include the lighting of a Kinara, which holds seven candles that represent each of the principles.
Most celebrations take place throughout the week, usually culminating with events that showcase several aspects of African American culture and its ties to Africa.
Here are a few events taking place in black communities around the country:
Dec. 29, 2012 -- 2nd Annual Kwanza Market with “Sankofa” Screening & Discussion, “Omiiroo,” 400 14th Street, Oakland, CA 94612. Film: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m, Market: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Dec. 31, 2012 – 46th Annual Kwanzaa Karamu “An Evening In Africa,” Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Program: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets: 323-299-6124.
Dec. 28, 2012 – 2012 Kwanzaa Celebration, William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Event: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Dec. 29 – 30, 2012 – Kwanzaa Celebration, African American Museum, 701 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Program: Saturday, 11 a.m, to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Jan. 1, 2013 – “Imani Celebration,” Ballethnic Dance Company, 2587 Cheney Street, East Point, GA 30344. Program: 3 p.m. Tickets: 404-762-1416.
Dec. 29, 2012 – Kwanzaa 2012, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024. Program: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Dec. 29, 2012 – Ujamaa Celebration, Brentnell Recreation Center, 1280 Brentnell Avenue, Columbus, OH 43219. Program: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.