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Kwanzaa offers guidance to steer through adversity

Published: Wed, December 26, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

As Americans begin the final week of a particularly troubling year, all of us can take some degree of comfort in embracing the principles that define the traditional African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, which begins today and runs through New Year’s Day 2013.

As we struggle to make sense of the horrid massacre of 20 young children and six protective adults in Newtown, Conn., as we take stock of the massive destruction and death wrought by superstorm Sandy, as we look back on one of the most nasty and divisive American presidential elections in modern times, and as we continue to struggle to recover from the Great Recession while stumbling closer and closer to a frightening fiscal cliff, the ideals of Kwanzaa can be both instructive and consoling.

Many of the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa create a framework for individual and collective problem-solving and growth. Among them are unity, faith, collective work and responsibility.

But unfortunately, today, 46 years after its first observance in California, the weeklong African American cultural holiday of Kwanzaa remains steeped in misunderstanding and mystery. In some circles, it still struggles to achieve legitimacy, and as such, many miss out on its potential as a viable tool to work through personal and collective challenges and struggles.

As the Mahoning Valley joins the rest of the nation in marking the start of the holiday at 7 tonight at New Bethel Baptist Church on Hillman Street in Youngstown, it is an opportune time to demystify the festival, debunk myths surrounding it and reinforce its legitimacy as an observance that black Americans — and all Americans — can appreciate.

Coming as it does during the heart of Christianity’s most hallowed season, it is easy for some to perceive Kwanzaa as a religious celebration. Targeted as it is toward black Americans, it is easy for other ethnic groups to simply ignore.

Kwanzaa, however, is neither religious in its foundation nor exclusionary in its message. It is not America’s “black Christmas,” as some have misrepresented it over the years.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, who organized the first Kwanzaa in the United States in 1966, clearly states in his Kwanzaa message to the nation the purpose of the holiday:

“In its most essential understanding and expression, Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture with each providing a context and commitment of common ground, cooperative practice and shared good. Kwanzaa is a celebration of the family, which first forms us, names, nurtures and sustains us, and teaches us upright and uplifting ways to understand and assert our- selves in the world.”

Of course, the cultural message is aimed primarily at blacks. Kwanzaa, which in Swahili means the celebration of first fruits, accentuates values that reinforce African family, community and cultural values.

Kwanzaa is inclusive

But as Karenga points out, people of other cultures and ethnicities can and do celebrate Kwanzaa, just as people of all cultures mark Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Italian-American heritage festivals and other ethnic-specific observances throughout the year.

Indeed, some of the seven guiding principles, or “Nguzo Saba,” of Kwanzaa transcend racial and ethnic boundaries. Those values, one of which is celebrated during each day of Kwanzaa, include Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

When we shed Kwanzaa off the misconceptions and fallacies surrounding it, what remains are the core ideals that offer black Americans and all Americans guidance to lead productive, fulfilling and honorable lives. It also provides direction to navigate through some of life’s most troubling times, such as those that Americans have endured over the past 12 months.


1Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

"It is not America’s “black Christmas,” as some have misrepresented it over the years."

Yes it is. Maulana KarengaIt did it for blacks only, don't try to deny it, it's the only reason. And it don't work because the blacks don't follow the principles. Stupid makeup "whatever" it is.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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2ulistenup(95 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

Kwanzaa is a pagan celebration.

Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. Karenga has expressed that his goal was to give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.

So, as seemingly innocent as Kwanzaa is, it was originally instituted as a pagan alternative to Christmas.

Interestingly, Christmas was set at the end of the year, originally to counteract pagan celebrations, which occurred at the same time.

As the world again becomes pagan, we have entered a time of pagan holidays, like Kwanzaa, specifically put in place to counteract Christianity.

The fact that some blacks may also celebrate Christmas indicates their lack of understanding of Karenga's intentions.

Kwanzaa's "core principles" are "touchy-feelingly" seductive, and on the face of them - positive.

But I am against any and all attempts, including Karenga's, of returning the end of the year to a celebration of pagan rituals that only serve to confuse people and diminish the importance of the Christian celebration of the dominant culture: Christmas.

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3Attis(1134 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

Bethel Baptist cancelled Kwanzaa tonight. It should remained cancelled permanently. No one in Africa observes it (or ever has) and no one anywhere else, except in a fanatically Black Nationalist cult, should. Let it go and join other failures at fabricating the supremacy of one race/ethnicity over others.

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4UsuallyBlunt(105 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

Merry Christmas! (non-believers)

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