On December 26, 1966, Maulana Karenga, a professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Long Beach, held the very first Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa, named after the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits,” is a seven-day celebration of African traditions as well as family and community values. Incorporating aspects of Ashanti and Zulu harvest festivals, Kwanzaa celebrates the Nguzo Saba (Swahili for “Seven Principles”) of umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).
Each day during Kwanzaa, participants reflect on these principles and light one candle on a kinara, a type of seven-branched candelabra. The black candle in the middle represents umoja, and the three green and red candles represent the other principles. The colors are also significant: Black represents the people, red signifies the struggle, and green stands for the future. On the first night of Kwanzaa, the black center candle is lit, and during the following days, the candles closest to umoja are lit by alternating left to right.
Although Kwanzaa is a newcomer compared to the ancient traditions at the heart of Hanukkah and Christmas, millions of people in the U.S. and around the world celebrate the holiday. These seven quotes from prominent Black voices get to the heart of Kwanzaa’s seven principles, and offer valuable wisdom for all people.
We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.Gwendolyn Brooks
Umoja represents various levels of togetherness, in the home, community, and also as a race of people at large.
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.Maya Angelou
Kujichagulia is the power to define oneself and also to speak for oneself, whether socially or politically.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.Langston Hughes
Ujima urges people to solve problems from the perspective of community rather than individual desire.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.Nelson Mandela
Ujamaa takes the community of Kwanzaa and channels it for economic means, by advocating for the establishment — and patronage — of Black-owned businesses.
If you have a purpose in which you can believe, there's no end to the amount of things you can accomplish.Marian Anderson
Nia stresses the importance of purpose and goal-oriented work for bettering communities around the world.
Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.Zora Neale Hurston
This principle focuses on the power of creativity to enrich communities, leaving them in an improved condition compared to how they were inherited.
The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.James Baldwin
Imani can speak to a person’s faith in God or in other beliefs, such as family, heritage, and social causes.
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