Apply Kwanzaa principles all year

There will be five significant celebrations this month.

The first four, most of us know well.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians. It will be celebrated beginning Dec. 9 this year.

New Year’s Eve will be filled with much partying, and communities will have nonalcoholic, family-friendly First Night events.

It is the fifth celebration, however, I want to discuss.

Since 1966, a cultural celebration has taken place and has gained in popularity in the black community. It is called Kwanzaa, created by Maulana Karenga in California. The celebration that began with Karenga and just a few friends and family members has spread across the country.

Full disclosure necessitates that I bring out a few facts associated with Karenga, who was born Ronald Everett in 1941. He is a convicted felon, but he served his time and has earned two doctorates. His roots are in Pan Africanism and black nationalism.

But Kwanzaa showcases seven positive principles that, I think, can be applied to any culture or race throughout the year.

The celebration begins Dec. 26 and continues until Jan. 1. Marenga called the seven principles of African heritage the Nguzo Saba.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to those principles.

Karenga created the celebration to meld traditional African culture and traditions with those of black Americans who had adapted to living in a country that had once looked upon them as nothing more than chattel.

The first principle is unity, or Umoja, in Swahili. That is the desire to strive for unity in the family, community, nation and race. Strong families build strong communities. Strong communities can help build a stronger nation. There is also no shame to be proud of one’s ethnic background and celebrate those traditions of culture. The family structure has been threatened like never before. We must again find that desire to unify our families.

The second principle is Kujichagulia, or self-determination. That is the principle of defining ourselves, creating for ourselves and standing up for ourselves.

For centuries in America, descendants of Africans could not define themselves. To a large extent, that has thankfully changed. But too often young people, particularly young black people, still aren’t given the chance to stand up for themselves.

A dysfunctional family system has driven many to join gangs to try to find their identity. Those gangs seek to kill, steal and destroy. In the end, young lives are lost through violence or lengthy prison sentences.

The third principle is collective work and responsibility, or Ujima. That means building and maintaining our community together. We should all work together to solve the problems of those who are going through tough times.

This follows the biblical principle of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is a simple, but powerful, concept, and one, sadly, America seems to be moving away from. The work ethic needs to be preached again from the highest mountain. There is no shame in working to achieve your goals. We should also encourage each other every day, not bash one another. Working together and holding everyone responsible and accountable is what made this country great.

Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, is the fourth principle. This calls for building and maintaining stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together. In other words, business exists to help provide jobs, which in turn boosts the economy, and keeps the dollars rolling within a community. It also helps to provide resources to help the less fortunate among us. Sharing the wealth should be the goal.

Nia, or purpose, is Kwanzaa’s fifth principle. That purpose is to make our collective vocation and community development a goal to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

As descendants of a great people in Africa, black Americans should never feel any less about themselves. The contributions of black people have added to the wealth and greatness of the United States, and that should always be remembered by everyone.

The sixth principle is Kuumba, or creativity. We should always do as much as we can, in any way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it. There are numerous groups in our country that have long embraced and continue to embrace this principle.

The final principle is faith, or Imani. We should always stop and reflect on the struggles our parents, grandparents and ancestors endured to make things better for us.

Along that road, we need to give thanks to the teachers, mentors, leaders and those who sacrificed their time, and sometimes their lives, to ensure our basic freedoms and rights. And, of course, we need to maintain our faith in God.

To find out more about Kwanzaa, go to its official website at www.-

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. Contact him at

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