Kwanzaa Manifesting Collective Cultural Values

How do African Americans express their heritage in a multi-cultural world? Since the 1960s, a countless number of families and communities across the USA have continued to present Kwanzaa as a vehicle to collectively invigorate and strengthen our African identity and cultural interconnections. 

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By Bakari Sanyu 

How do African Americans express their heritage in a multi-cultural world? Since the 1960s, a countless number of families and communities across the USA have continued to present Kwanzaa as a vehicle to collectively invigorate and strengthen our African identity and cultural interconnections. Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, provides a designated time to widely celebrate our ancestral origin and to share the riveting beauty of African culture, its values, insights, and instructive practices so we can deeply rejuvenate our lives, families, and community for mutual flourishing and benefit. 

The annual tradition functions to 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 in an organized manner. The Kwanzaa season provides a designated time for people of African descent to coalesce and express their ethnicity together, in the collective richness and festive cultural ambiance of enriching African art, dance, poetry, folktales, music, cuisine, literature, and in the beauty of heritage clothing, heirlooms, hairstyles, jewelry, crafts, and expansive creative productions. 

The Kwanzaa cultural tradition was created 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 and apply the beauty of its values, insights, and instructive practices throughout our community. This cultural tradition’s authoritative source publication is readily available at – and a comprehensive reading, will provide considerable detailed and in-depth explanations on the overarching context.   

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 the most widely spoken African continental trade language used among 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. 

Kwanzaa has spread all around the world as an African affirming cultural celebration.  The cultural expression is now evident throughout North, Central, and South America, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and its worldwide reach encompasses 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 capacity, duty, and wherewithal to change the prevailing conditions of our lives with cultural memory, if we diligently practice cultural values, focused priorities, organization, commitment, and continuous empowered action.   

Kwanzaa serves to restore and reinforce rootedness in our African heritage, culture, and consciousness, as well as functions 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, contribute to, maintain, continue, manifest, uplift, preserve, expand, and propel forward much more cultural memory, Movement, and momentum for our future generations.   Kwanzaa honors the moral responsibility and awesome obligation to remember our esteemed Ancestors, who through their love, labor, and struggle, laid the foundation for us and pushed our lives and history forward, and on whose collective shoulders we now stand.    

The thrust of the cultural celebration is to continually strive to build, strengthen, maintain, and reaffirm our family, community, and cultural bonds with deliberate actions that expand more excellence, clarity, trust, confidence, togetherness, dignity, support, caring, cooperation, empowerment, productivity, progress, and wellbeing.  And the annual tradition reminds our community in its historical, geographical, and current diversity to continue to embrace, embody, build on, contribute to, maintain, manifest, and expand a dignified cultural legacy as a collective way of functioning in the world.  Our overall condition will change when enough individuals and families embrace, nurture, support, teach, maintain, and institutionalize self-knowledge to transform their self-image, as well as persistently work to intentionally practice more overarching culturally grounded values.   

Manifest more priorities to restore cultural names among ourselves, and to our commemorations, life-cycle ceremonies, organizations, festivals, services, programs, ethnic marketplaces, and events.  Decorate with self-reflective heritage imagery, and continually patronize our community newspaper and more Black businesses, so we can sustain and expand a collective economic base.  Join a grassroots community cultural organization and purposely act to be a dependable, financially contributing, focused, self-motivated, 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, spectating, hand-waving, idle bystander).    

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.  The cultural tradition’s context is intended to reinvigorate the passion, necessity, urgency, and priority of propelling OURstory’s collective consciousness forward.  There is one principle to focus on during each day of the 7-day cultural tradition. 

The Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) listed here in both Kiswahili and English, are as follow with brief explanations: 

  Umoja (Unity):

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race

This a call to rise, focus, and purposely act and commit to persistently practice working harmoniously together in our family, community, and culture for collective empowerment and productivity.

  Kujichagulia (Self-Determination):

To define ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves, instead of being defined, named, created for, and spoken for by others

This is a call to persistently reclaim, value, respect, embrace, embody, and restore the best of our history, heritage, and culture so we can think for, empower, and work to develop ourselves according to our own dignity affirming needs and priorities.

  Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility):

To build and maintain our community together and to make our sisters and brothers problems, our problems, and to solve them together

This is a call to commit to each other in destiny and duty, and to consistently work towards improving and better sustaining our family, community, cultural conditions and capacities, as well as our boundless future possibilities.

  Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics):

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

This is a call to build, expand, and persistently patronize community vendors, stores, shops, businesses, entrepreneurs, and companies so we can establish a vital financial base for funding and sustaining more collective development and growth. 

  Nia (Purpose)

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

This is a call to commit to an overarching dedication directed towards embracing, embodying, and practicing building more family, community, and cultural cohesion as a valued lifestyle, so we can restore widespread self-love, self-respect, self-agency, self-initiative, trust, harmony, wellbeing, and collective productivity.

  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

This is a call to introduce and develop original, innovative, and inventive productions that are always socially purposeful, dignified, regenerative, and uplifting.

  Imani (Faith)

To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle

This is a call to rise and be a transformative agent of change and to manifest more service, empathy, healing, goodness, interconnections, and inspiration as a way of life, so we can create a better and more beautiful world than what we have inherited.

Our cultural tradition functions as a source of collective identity, purpose, direction, and consciousness. For as our esteemed Ancestor, Nana “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 our cultural foundation, so we can manifest self-defining and selfconfirming bedrock principles (i.e., Nguzo Saba) derived from African tradition, reason, and history, and that collectively function to uplift our family and community.  Practicing our productive cultural values requires an honest selfassessment with three interlinked questions taught by our esteemed Ancestor, Nana “Frantz Fanon” on cultural identity:  

       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 positive cultural representative of our people throughout the year. Therefore, let’s work together and apply our ethical cultural values, tell our unique complex narrative, present uplifting dignified self-imagery, build harmonious social cohesion, and continually reject, challenge, and eliminate self- destructive, self-debasing, and self-erasure conditioning behaviors which result from cultural alienation and historical amnesia. 

More importantly, remember that our year-round practice of the Nguzo Saba requires us to sustain a profound sense of kinship with and among each other. Do something purposeful, collectively organized, dignified, dependable, and reoccurring in our community. Uplift, empower, and expand much more togetherness, activity, excellence, camaraderie, courtesy, integrity, 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 Thursday, December 28, 2023, 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 by the community to proudly embody, honor, elevate, and support the essence, ambience, purpose, and ethnic imagery of our cultural tradition. Public Admission is FREE and our entire community is cordially invited to enjoy the annual festive cultural celebration. Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa)