Kwanzaa celebrations go virtual for second year, the holiday explained

December 27, 2021
Kwanzaa celebrations go virtual for second year, the holiday explained


AKRON, Ohio – In the midst of the highly infectious omicron variant of the coronavirus, many Kwanzaa celebrations are being hosted virtually for a second year

The holiday, which commemorates African American culture, began Sunday and continues until the new year, honoring traditions of the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“I think what the pandemic has done has emphasized and given yet another reason why Kwanzaa is necessary,” said Lathardus Goggins II, education chair for the Akron’s NAACP. “The need for relationships within community and establishing a cultural connection is that much more prevalent.”

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Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. 

Karenga designed the holiday as a way to reaffirm African Americans’ roots in African culture, to have a regular time for Black people to bond, and to introduce the Nguzo Saba, which is Swahili for “seven values,” said Chimbuko Tembo, associate director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where Karenga is executive director.

The holiday is based on African agricultural celebrations of the first harvest, and Tembo said Swahili was chosen as the language for its terminology because it’s “nonethnic” and the most widely spoken African language.

As Karenga put it in a 2013 interview with the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle, “The celebration of Kwanzaa is about embracing ethical principles and values, so the goodness of the world can be shared and enjoyed by us and everyone.” 

A different value is celebrated on each of seven nights, marked by lighting candles on a holder called a kinara – three red candles, three green and a black candle at the center.

The seven values of Kwanzaa:

  1. Umoja, or Unity: The first principle of Kwanzaa is unity, especially as it relates to family, community, nation and race.  
  2. Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination: This principle encourages participants to define and speak for themselves. 
  3. Ujima, or Collective Work and Responsibility: Participants should build and maintain community together and help solve one another’s problems.
  4. Ujamaa, or Cooperative Economics: Karenga describes cooperative economics as the sum of three concepts:  shared wealth and work,economic self-reliance, and obligation of generosity. 
  5. Nia, or Purpose: This principle is defined as building and developing community.
  6. Kuumba, or Creativity: To leave the community more beautiful than before.
  7. Imani, or Faith: For Kwanzaa’s last night, participants reflect on faith in people, family and leaders. 

The holiday began as a small celebration among members of an organization called Us, created by Karenga during the Black power movement of the 1960s. As the holiday gained popularity, Karenga was arrested and jailed in 1971 on charges of assault and false imprisonment. A jury found him guilty after two women testified that they were tortured by Karenga and his followers.

Karenga was released in 1975 and has maintained his innocence.


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