Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion and equity. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.
Happy Black History Month. Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American culture celebrated from December 26th through January 1st. And yet there are so many things we can learn from Kwanzaa every day. Kwanzaa was created to help build the community of African-Americans and Africans through the world by reinforcing seven essential values of African culture. Whether you’re of African descent or another ethnicity, expand your awareness about the culture and this cultural celebration. This week I want to discuss the second principle in the pan-African language of Swahili, Kujichagulia. Kujichagulia means self-determination. It’s to define ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
This is an important principle since American institutions have defined the cultural identity for African-Americans in negative ways for hundreds of years. In my lifetime, there have been many instances when African-Americans are told they don’t have a culture. And while we’ve made progress, we have the opportunity to continue to make changes in our environment, our behaviors, our beliefs, values, and in understanding identity. Kujichagulia is about your own determination. Practice this principle every day by using your own power to complete your goals with a spirit of excellence. In diversity and inclusion, you have to start with yourself. Whether you lead a company or work for one, you have to continue to explore yourself, your own will, your own determination.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is not for the weak. You have to put your entire self into your projects, your workouts, your athletic conditioning, your musical practice. You’re not working for your manager or your client, even. You’re working against yourself to create a standard of excellence that your ancestors were unable to reach. Invest time in yourself. Define yourself. Research your own ancestry, maintain a healthy diet, debate your own views with yourself or a friend. Question yourself. Why do you believe what you believe? It is very hard to unlearn something. We often get so set in our ways because we think we know history. Then we realize the history we learned was different than someone else’s history.
Maybe we were never taught. We were never exposed to it. How will this new information change your beliefs, values or behaviors? Set your annual goals. Stop procrastinating. If you can’t start there, start with a daily goal and then expand it to a weekly goal. Work the other way if that’s better for you. Eventually you will get to work with the end in mind. Have the confidence to speak up for yourself or someone else in the room if necessary. Celebrate the spirit of Kwanzaa by practicing Kujichagulia in your life, everyday. And whether it’s December, February, or October, remember the Kwanzaa principles every day.
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