By Bakari Sanyu

Director, The Sankofa Collective A community-based cultural education organization

What African heritage tradition functions to renew and strengthen the intertwined, cherished, and indivisible values of family, community, and culture in a rich and meaningful way? Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, provides a designated time to collectively celebrate our ancestral origin and share the beauty of African culture, its values, insights, and instructive practices so we can deeply rejuvenate our lives and community for mutual flourishing and benefit. The tradition functions to deeply rejuvenate our cultural memory around the necessity, urgency, and priority of continuing, maintaining and expanding our collective uplift Movement, so we can propel the momentum of our actions and deeds forward. The Kwanzaa season serves as a vehicle for people of African descent to gather and express their ethnicity in the richness and festive cultural ambiance of ethnic art, dance, poetry, folktales, music, cuisine, literature and the beauty of heritage clothing, jewelry, heirlooms, hairstyles, and creative productions. 

The Kwanzaa cultural tradition was founded and framed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles, California within the midst and context of the 1960’s African American Freedom Movement. And as the creator of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga is the author of the definitive text on its origins, principles, practices, symbols and meaning. Take time to learn and relearn more information about Kwanzaa and then share the beauty of its values, insights, and instructive practices. The book is readily available at and a comprehensive reading will provide considerable detailed explanations. The name Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, where matunda means “fruits”, and ya kwanza means “first”. Dr. Karenga added the extra “a” to the Kiswahili word kwanza, to distinguish the cultural tradition’s name. The language of Kiswahili was chosen for the name Kwanzaa and all accompanying phrases, because it is a widespread trade language used by multiple African countries. And the year-end observance of Kwanzaa occurs because this cultural expression is derived from the African continent’s traditional year-end agricultural harvest celebrations. 

Since the 1960’s African American families and communities across the USA, have presented Kwanzaa and the celebration has spread all around the world. Kwanzaa is now evident in North, Central and South America, throughout the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia and Africa and the celebration is observed worldwide by over 60 million people of African descent. This beautiful cultural model of possibility and cultural excellence created by Dr. Maulana Karenga reminds our communities that we have the have the capacity, duty, and wherewithal to change the prevailing conditions of our lives with cultural memory, if we diligently practice cultural values, focused priorities, commitment, and continuous empowered action. Kwanzaa serves to restore and reinforce rootedness in our African heritage and culture, as well as to strengthen, maintain, and reaffirm our interconnected family, community, and cultural bonds. The cultural expression brings us together from various countries, classes, ages, generations, religious traditions, and political persuasions to focus on and recommit to develop, enrich, contribute to, uplift, preserve and propel forward our cultural memory, Movement and momentum for future generations. 

Kwanzaa honors the moral responsibility and obligation to remember our Ancestors, who through their love, labor, and struggle, laid the foundation for us and pushed our lives and history forward, and on whose shoulders we now stand. The thrust of the cultural celebration is to continually strive to build, strengthen, maintain, and reaffirm family, community, and cultural bonds with deliberate actions that expand progress, trust, productivity, cooperation, and empowerment. And the annual tradition reminds our community in its historical, geographical, and current diversity to continue to embrace, build on, contribute to, maintain, and expand a dignified cultural legacy as a way of functioning in the world. 

Our overall condition will change when enough individuals and families embrace self-knowledge to transform their self-image and persistently work to intentionally practice more overarching cultural values. Manifest priorities to restore cultural names, decorate with heritage imagery which reflect ourselves, and patronize our community newspaper and more Black businesses to sustain a collective economic base. Purposely act to be a dependable, financially contributing, focused, and committed Member (NOT a random drop-in, drop-by, drop-out, drop-off “best wishes for continued success”, half-in, half-out, loitering, peripheral hand-waving, idle, spectating bystander) of a grassroots community cultural organization.  

The heart and soul of Kwanzaa revolves around Seven Principles. The Kiswahili term for all Seven Principles is the Nguzo Saba. This minimum set of ethical values addresses what cultural integrity challenges our community faces and how to successfully deal with the cultural challenges. There is one principle to focus on during each day of the cultural tradition. 

The Nguzo Saba in Swahili and English with a brief explanation are: 

 Umoja (Unity) – is a call to rise, focus, and purposely choose to act and commit to persistently practice working harmoniously together in the family, community, and culture for collective empowerment 

 Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – is a call to persistently value, respect, embrace, and embody our history, heritage, and culture so we can think for, define, and develop ourselves in our own image and according to our own needs 

 Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – is a call to commit to each other in destiny and duty and consistently work towards improving and better sustaining our family, community, and cultural conditions for a more secure future 

 Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – is a call to build, expand and persistently patronize community vendors, stores, shops, businesses, entrepreneurs, companies, farms, and small banks to establish a vital financial base for funding collective development 

 Nia (Purpose) – is a call to commit to an overarching dedication directed towards embracing, embodying, and practicing building family, community, and culture unity as a way of life so we can restore widespread self-respect, progress, trust, wellbeing, and productivity for a return to traditional greatness 

 Kuumba (Creativity) – is a call to introduce and develop original, innovative, and inventive productions that are socially purposeful, dignified, restorative and uplifting 

 Imani (Faith) – is a call to rise and purposely act to become a transformative agent of change and manifest service, empathy, healing, goodness, and inspiration as a way of life to create a better and more beautiful world than what we have inherited 

Our cultural tradition will continue to be a source of African American identity, purpose, and direction. For as our esteemed Ancestor the honorable Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer taught, “there are two things we should always care about, never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over”. 

The message and meaning of Kwanzaa are intended to continually invigorate and preserve a cultural foundation for uplifting our family and community with self-defining and self-confirming bedrock principles derived from tradition, reason, and history. Our esteemed Ancestor Dr. Frantz Fanon has said that we must ask ourselves three culturally rooted questions: 

• Who Am I? 

• Am I Really Who I Say I Am? 

• Am I All That I Ought To Be? 

The collective answers to these three questions will determine the extent of how each of us chooses to function as a cultural representative of our people throughout the year. Work to apply our ethical cultural values, tell our unique complex narrative, present uplifting dignified self-imagery, promote positive social cohesion, and continually reject, challenge, and eliminate self-destructive, self-debasing, and self-erasure behaviors which result from cultural alienation and historical amnesia. Remember that year-round practice of the Nguzo Saba requires us to sustain a profound sense of kinship with each other. Do something beneficial and reoccurring in our community. Uplift, empower and expand more excellence, cultural knowledge restoration practices, community bonding involvement, focused organizing, cooperative wealth generation, independent cultural institution building work, skilled trades development, infrastructure ownership, and cultural liberation activities. We are our own Cultural Liberators, Ambassadors and Advocates. 

There will be a Kwanzaa Celebration for our community-at-large on Wednesday, December 29, 2021, from 1 pm to 5 pm, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, located at 1000 S. Owens Street, Bakersfield, California. African heritage attire is strongly emphasized to proudly embody, honor, elevate, and support the essence, ambiance, purpose, and ethnic imagery of our cultural tradition. Public Admission is FREE and our entire community is cordially invited to enjoy the festive cultural event. Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa) 

Bakari Sanyu Director, The Sankofa Collective A community-based cultural education organization email: