Kwanzaa is a celebration of Black culture that is held from December 26 to January 1. It was first celebrated in 1966. The holiday is based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa.

It’s a way for Black people in the diaspora to reconnect with their ancestral and cultural heritage. As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, Black people lost their connection to their West African traditions. Kwanzaa is one way that we can reconnect and remember.

Picture of a smiling woman in a green dress.
Photo by Miguel Bruna / Unsplash

Umoja

On the first day of Kwanzaa, we observe the value of Umoja or unity. We" strive for unity in our communities, families, and culture."

Kujichagulia

Kujichagulia means self-determination. Self-determination means the we “define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.”

I recently spent some time setting goals for 2021 and re-clarifying who I want to be, what I want to create, what I want to be known for, and what I want to say to myself and to others.

This is self-determination, and we reconnect to this value whenever we decide to determine our fates.

The older I get, the more it feels as if I have to push back even harder against the rising tide of distress, unrest, and oppression in the world. And so I return to this principle of self-determination again and again.

I define myself. Who do I say that I am?

I name myself. How do I want to be addressed?

I create for myself. What work do I want to do...for myself? What work brings me deep joy and satisfaction?

I speak for myself. How will I make my voice known?

Ujima

Ujima stands for collective work and responsibility.

This principle means that we “build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and solve them together.”
American society prizes independence. We applaud those who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and achieve success against insurmountable odds.

But West African cultures value community over individuality. Unfortunately, this value was lost as a result of the transatlantic slave trade and our assimilation into American culture. We experience the effects of that loss today.

With ujima, we make a recommitment to becoming our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

With ujima, we resolve to be a Good Samaritan to the person suffering and wounded on the side of the road.

With ujima, we resolve to build a better community, not only for ourselves,
but for the future generations.

Women farming cassava in Sierra Leone
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Ujamaa

With ujamaa we “build and maintain our own businesses, control the economics of our own community, and share its all of its work and wealth.”

I recently took up knitting again as a way to relax my racing brain. But the works of our hands, the creations of our hands also bring us wealth. Valuing the works of our hands and profiting from them is something which Black communities can benefit from.

For me, this can take many forms. I could eventually sell my knitting on Etsy. As a writer, I am selling my novels. Be sure to pre-order your copy of A Lowcountry Bride (shameless plug!)

What are you doing to prosper yourself and your community?

Nia

Nia means purpose. With this value, we “look within ourselves and set goals that are beneficial to the community.”

Since last week, I have been doing some serious introspection and goal setting. I noticed that a lot of the goals which I set sound more like mission statements.

Many of those mission statements have references to how my goal will benefit others. This hasn’t been the case in the past.

After surviving 2020, I gained a clearer vision on the type of person I want to be and on how I want to show up in the world.

This vision holds space for creating joyful communities, both online and in my personal life.

What vision do you hold for 2021?
Man wearing a white shirt and a tan hat.
Photo by Prince Akachi / Unsplash

Kuumba

Kuumba means creativity. We “do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our communities more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”

Creativity is a gift. It arrives in diverse packages and in the most unexpected ways.

When we touch upon it, it’s our responsibility to utilize it for our benefit and the benefit of others.

Durign Kwanzaa, ask yourself:

How will I utilize my creativity to benefit others?
Woman holding her hands in prayer and looking up.
Photo by Diana Simumpande / Unsplash

Imani

Imani means faith. With this value, we "believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

As Black Catholics, we are familiar with having a faith tradition, but how does our faith translate to other people? Having an active faith in Christ means that we don't live in a vacuum, but that our faith will extend to those in our communities. It also means that our faith will inspire others to live fuller, more meaningful lives.

Happy New Year and Happy Kwanzaa.

Woman wearing a green dress and getting ready for a new years party.
Photo by Andrae Ricketts / Unsplash