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Kwanzaa: Celebrating More Than 7 Principles

Some people think of Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas, referring to it as Black Christmas. Karenga writes that Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but one that is cultural “with an inherent spiritual quality. Thus, Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa.” This, Karenga says, includes Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Baháʼí, and Hindus, as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon.

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A typical Kwanzaa altar features a mat, fruits and vegetables as well as a kinara, or candleholder and mishumaa saba, the seven candles representing the principles of Kwanzaa that are lit each day from December 26 to January 1. Photo courtesy of iStock.
A typical Kwanzaa altar features a mat, fruits and vegetables as well as a kinara, or candleholder and mishumaa saba, the seven candles representing the principles of Kwanzaa that are lit each day from December 26 to January 1. Photo courtesy of iStock.

By Tamara Shiloh

Millions of people worldwide participate in Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Modeled after traditional African harvest festivals, the name of this holiday was borrowed from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits.”

More than 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa. Swahili is one of its more unifying languages, spoken by millions on the continent.

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, activist and American professor of Africana studies, created the pan-African holiday. He did so as a way of uniting and empowering the Black community in the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion, or the Watts Riots, which broke out on Aug. 11, 1965, in Los Angeles.

Prompted by a Black man’s altercation with police, the riots lasted six days, leaving 34 dead, 1,032 injured. There were 4,000 arrests and more than 1,000 buildings destroyed, totaling $40 million in damages.

The first celebration was held in 1966. Seven children attended, each representing a letter in the word Kwanzaa, hence Karenga’s addition of the letter ‘a’ to the traditional Swahili spelling of kwanza.

Some people think of Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas, referring to it as Black Christmas. Karenga writes that Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but one that is cultural “with an inherent spiritual quality. Thus, Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa.” This, Karenga says, includes Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Baháʼí, and Hindus, as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon.

Kwanzaa, modeled after the first harvest celebrations in Africa, is rooted in African culture. However, people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds are welcome to join in the celebration of its principles.

Part of the tradition is gift-giving on the last day. Because the holiday is a celebration of spiritual qualities and not commercialization, handmade or educational gifts, such as books, puzzles, or culturally themed items, are encouraged.

Activities held throughout the week embrace five central values: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. From these, one of the seven principles, or nguzo saba, are celebrated each day: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).

The mishumaa saba (seven candles) are set in candleholder called a kinara. The candles boast the colors of the pan-African flag designed by Marcus Garvey: black for the people, red for the noble blood that unites all people of African ancestry, and green for the rich land of Africa. The lone black candle stands for unity. The three green candles represent the future, and three red candles represent the struggle out of slavery. Each night one candle on the Kinara is lit in honor of the day’s principle.

Although Kwanzaa is not widely celebrated in Africa, it is publicly acknowledged in the Caribbean as well as other cities where there are large numbers of descendants of Africans such as London, Paris, and Toronto. Such a prideful event honoring family, culture, and heritage should be reflected upon year-round.

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Oakland Post: Week of May 15 – 21, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 15 – 21, 2024

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Oakland Post: Week of May 8 – 14, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 8 – 14, 2024

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S.F. Black Leaders Rally to Protest, Discuss ‘Epidemic’ of Racial Slurs Against Black Students in SF Public School System

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored. 

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Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.
Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.

By Carla Thomas

San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church hosted a rally and meeting Sunday to discuss hatred toward African American students of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church, along with leadership from local civil rights groups, the city’s faith-based community and Black community leadership convened at the church.

“There has been an epidemic of racial slurs and mistreatment of Black children in our public schools in the city,” said Brown. “This will not be tolerated.”

According to civil rights advocate Mattie Scott, students from elementary to high school have reported an extraordinary amount of racial slurs directed at them.

“There is a surge of overt racism in the schools, and our children should not be subjected to this,” said Scott. “Students are in school to learn, develop, and grow, not be hated on,” said Scott. “The parents of the children feel they have not received the support necessary to protect their children.”

Attendees were briefed last Friday in a meeting with SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne.

SFUSD states that their policies protect children and they are not at liberty to publicly discuss the issues to protect the children’s privacy.

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored.

Some parents said they have removed their students from school while other parents and community leaders called on the removal of the SFUSD superintendent, the firing of certain school principals and the need for more supportive school board members.

Community advocates discussed boycotting the schools and creating Freedom Schools led by Black leaders and educators, reassuring parents that their child’s wellbeing and education are the highest priority and youth are not to be disrupted by racism or policies that don’t support them.

Virginia Marshall, chair of the San Francisco NAACP’s education committee, offered encouragement to the parents and students in attendance while also announcing an upcoming May 14 school board meeting to demand accountability over their mistreatment.

“I’m urging anyone that cares about our students to pack the May 14 school board meeting,” said Marshall.

This resource was supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library via California Black Media as part of the Stop the Hate Program. The program is supported by partnership with California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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