Kwanzaa: Celebrating Culture, Family, and Community

African-Americans should passionately celebrate Kwanzaa because it informs us of who we are, it inspires us to do what is needed to improve our communities, and it empowers us to endure the odds, obstacles, and opposition we face to a better future. Kwanzaa is important because it celebrates seven principles that promote family unity and a strong communities.  Further, Kwanza should be celebrated by African-Americans because it is one of the only holidays created by, out of the struggle, and for the benefit of African-Americans.

Kwanzaa, a Kiswahili word that literally means “first fruits of the harvest”, and it principles are annually celebrated by more than 40 million people world-wide from December 26-January 1.  Founded in 1966 by the Dr. Maulana Kareenga during the height of the Civil Rights/Black Power movement. Kwanzaa is an unique African-American celebration that focuses on traditional and universal African values of family, community responsibility, group commerce, and self-improvement for the greater good.

Due to the time period of the holiday, there is a  mis-conception that Kwanzaa was created as a substitute for Christmas.  Not true!   In fact, you do not have to be of a certain religious, political, or  ideology belief to practice and celebrate Kwanzaa.   Kwanzaa is simply a time of reaffirming  the below  seven guiding principles called the Nguzo Saba:

1.  Umoja/Unity      (OO-MO-JAH).      Umoja stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We,”   or “I am because We are.”
2. Kujichagulia/Self-Determination   (KOO-GEE-CHA-GOO-LEE-YAH). Kujichagulia requires that we  define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best  interest of our family and community.
3. Ujima/Collective  Work and Responsibility (OO-GEE-MAH). Ujima reminds us of our  obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to  play in the community, society, and world.
4. Ujamaa/Cooperative  Economics (OO-JAH-MAH). Ujamaa economics emphasizes our  collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.
5. Nia/Purpose      (NEE-YAH).  Nia encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
6. Kuumba      (KOO-OOM-BAH).    Kuumba makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong, clean, sustainable, and vibrant community.
7. Imani      (EE-MAH-NEE).      Imani focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best   in ourselves, and helps us   strive   for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and  confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in our righteous struggle true justice and equality.

Obviously there are many other components, rituals, and symbols of  the holiday that I did not discuss in this brief overview.   But I am sure you would agree that if Kwanzaa’s principals are passionately and daily celebrated our families and communities would be happier, healthier, and more prosperous.  Happy Kwanzaa!

Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed., is Of Counsel at RiggsAbney Law and Adjunct professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma.    He can be contacted at or @solospeakstruth.