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Kwanzaa starts today; what can you do at home to practice this reflective tradition?

All seven days have a purpose; practicing just one of those days can help one for the upcoming year

By Julia Dudley Najieb

From December 26 to January 1, Black people have a chance to reflect on the fruits of their labor, as individuals, as families, and as communities. This seven-day period of reflection known as Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits," mixes African traditions with the Black heritage in America.

Before suggesting ways to engage is this reflective holiday, here is a perspective of understanding of why Kwanzaa was important to Black people when it was first created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.

In 1966 America, in her adolescence, was still sick with the disease of racism, constantly attacking her Black Americans in their every way of life. Whether it be systemically or openly, racism was leading the charge in all social and economical interactions between Black and white people. However the stakes were higher for Black Americans who had no economic leverage or significant political power.

Oppressed by the unequal power structure of the United States and its government, many Black people were feeling downtrodden,defeated and hopeless. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was barely passed just two years before, right after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And in 1965, Black leader, Malik el-Hajj Shabazz, also known as Malcom X, was gunned down viciously at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights during a speaking engagement. He was 39.

However a new era was emerging from the Black struggle in 1966; souls were rising from the fire of pain as the Civil Rights Movement continued under the leadership of the great, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The renewed and new souls of Black folk wanted people in the United States and throughout the world to know that Black people, too, were citizens, American citizens with a purpose and a right to be on its soil. Out of such frustration came such solutions as the Black Panther Party, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland, California in 1966. Their mission was to teach Black people about their own power. And from there, the Black community could build. The Black Panther free lunch program and after school programs, helped to demonstrate collective work while reteaching Black children to be proud of who they were--young, beautiful Black children.

So in 1966, Dr. Karenga sought to teach Black people about their own will and spiritual power individually and collectively; people could reflect on their own issues, change what needed to be changed, and then do the same with the greater Black community using a seven-day process. The goal of the process was to help Black people heal from the surmountable stress and pressure from the daily racism, and to be proud of the skin they lived in everyday. The goal was to work collectively within the family and the community to defeated the nationwide inequities imposed on Black people in America.

To the Black Community:

Today, the purpose of having these reflections during Kwanzaa are about the same; Black people individually have a lot of work to do as well as with their families before they can assist the community. The unhealthy relationship we have with one another is due to our own self-hate, self-loathing, and feelings of lack of power. And therefore, these transgressions, aggressions and emotional outburst are taken out one another--although the pain is most likely stemming from something else. This emotional pain needs to go somewhere ...

So, where to begin?

First, start by getting to know and understand the seven principles, and what they mean to you. Each day, have a diary to reflect on each principle and how it played in your life throughout the year. How will you practice that same principle for the upcoming year? These are important things to thing about.

Meditation and prayers are useful during these seven days of reflection--consider them a daily practice, at least for seven days.

The Nguzo Saba (seven principles) are the ideals created to contribute to building and reinforcing community. Each principle is celebrated each day in one's household or community.

Here are the seven principles as quoted from the official Kwanzaa website:

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose)

To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity)

To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Here are the seven Kwanzaa items and symbols to set on one's table or altar:

Kikombe cha Umoja - Unity cup Kinara - Candleholder which represents the roots of the community and culture Mazao - Fruits and vegetables representing crops Mishumaa Saba - Seven Kwanzaa candles which represent the Nguzo Saba as they are lit Mkeka - Straw mat represents the foundation of the culture and history of the people Muhindi - Ears of corn to represent each child in the home and an additional ear for future blessings and generations Zawadi - Gifts traditionally given on Imani, the last day of Kwanzaa


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