first day of kwanzaa umoja

First day of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity). To strive for a principled & harmonious togetherness in the family, community, and world Afro-Community #kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday (Dec 26th-31st) created in 1966 to unite people in study of African philosophies and traditions, and offer a cultural counterpart to the political goals of the time. Kwanzaa was the vision of Dr. Maulana Karenga (current chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach), and he describes it as “an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice.” It was first celebrated among members of the burgeoning Black Power movement and initially contended that Christianity was a White religion that Blacks should shun, but has since evolved into a cultural holiday rather than a religious one. The name derives from the Swahili phrase, “first fruits of harvest,” highlighting the Pan-African focus on the East African language of Swahili (despite the fact that East Africa was not involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade). Kwanzaa is based on Seven Principles (the Nguzo Saba): Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). According to Dr. Karenga, it “brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.”

The first day of Kwanzaa, umoja-unity. It’s appropriate that this principle begins the celebration of Kwanzaa, of our community and it’s spirit and values.

And in this time an appreciation for unity is necessary. We have been divided for so long. We’ve taken sides on everything from skin tone to musical preference. From who has the newest kicks to what college you attended. These lines some more playful than others ultimately serve to divide us and diffuse the collective power of our community.

Bernice Johnson Reagon in “Home Girl: A Black Feminist Anthology” talked about the difference between a communal existence purported through coalition and community through unity. Reagon says, Coalescing is not comfortable, she likens it to being at the top of a mountain. Yes everyone has made it but there isn’t enough air, it’s hard to breathe, everyone doesn’t get what they need. But unity, unity deals with everyone, where they are. Everyone is seen and each need is addressed. And everyone progresses collectively.

If we as a people can unify over a few things well be prosperous over many things. Our Unity can bring about an end to Police Brutality. Our Unity can bring forth Economic and Housing equality. Our Unity can fortify, strengthen, and expand our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Our Unity does not have to be perfect, indeed it may include some aspects of the coalition but the power of us, no matter how imperfect is greater than any individual striving or singular action.

Amani na Baraka. Furaha Kwanzaa

For the first day of Kwanzaa, Umoja, I engaged in some cross-cultural conversations about unity. For those of you who didn’t follow the #BlackPowerYellowPeril tag there were some interesting conversations to be had, as well as some frustrating ones. No solutions were strategized in one day of varying emotions, but I am committed to cross-cultural movements in 2014 and unifying conversations (including call outs) with people who wish to engage in them. I have always seen Umoja as a day to engage in family unity or Black unity, but this year I have looked beyond that and hope to continue to community build and form alliances founded on anti-oppression work.