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In this episode, Melyssa explains the history of the celebration of Kwanzaa, the holiday’s significance of restoring African Americans to their Pan-African heritage and the tradition of building a community, as well as, highlights the sixth principle, Kuumba, the commitment to being creative.

#Kwanzaaeveryday #Kwanzaa #Kuumba 

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 equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

So this is a Kwanzaa mini-episode, and one of the reasons I like to talk about Kwanzaa is because of the very reasons of why it was created. So Kwanzaa, most of you know, is an African-American celebration, cultural celebration from December 26th through January 1st. It was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. So it’s really an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture. In the ’60s, the Black Movement after 1965 was defined by its thrust to return to the source or to go back to black. It stressed the rescue and reconstruction of African history and culture of ourselves and our culture of the goals and purpose of our struggle for liberation and a higher level of human life based on an Afrocentric model.

This focus on restoration was seen as evidenced in cultural practices, which included renaming oneself and one’s children with African names, wearing natural hairstyles, wearing African clothes, learning African language, and reviving African ceremonies such as naming nationalization, such as naming rites of passage, weddings, funerals. And there was an attempt to recover and begin to live African values in the family and community as a way to build and reinforce family, community, and culture.

And what is culture? Culture, in its full sense, of what was defined as the totality of thought and practice by which people create itself, celebrate, sustain, and develop itself, and it introduces itself to history and humanity. Culture, not simply fine art but totality of thought and practice of a people, which occurs in at least seven fundamental areas. History, religion or spirituality, social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, which includes art, music, literature, and dance, and ethos, which is the collective psychology resulting from the activity in the other six areas that I just brought up. So first, again, Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. Secondly, Kwanzaa was created to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce bonds between us as a people in both the national and pan-African sense. This allowed us to strengthen community, reaffirm a common identity, purpose, and direction.

And it really stressed the relationship between continental African and other Diasporan Africans. The unity of African people then being a central theme when we think about the values and the practice of Kwanzaa. And thirdly, Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. These values are a self-conscious contribution to the movement and, really, to the African and African-American value system. The seven principles were meant to represent the minimum set of African values that African-Americans needed to rebuild and strengthen family, community, and culture to become a self-conscious social force in the struggle to control our destiny and our daily life. So one of the most important and meaningful ways that we see an approach to Kwanzaa is to create a self-conscious cultural choice. Some see Kwanzaa as an alternative to the sentiments and practices of other holidays, which stress the commercial or faddish, or lack of an active African character or aspect.

And even in my own personal story, I think my husband and I were kind of frustrated with all the commercialization of Christmas, and we didn’t necessarily seek to replace Christmas, but we really wanted to create something that allowed us to connect with our African and African-American culture. So the true function of Kwanzaa is not to replace or substitute a particular holiday with Kwanzaa. It’s also distinct from a religious one. So when questions arise as to the relation between choosing Kwanzaa or Christmas, we always want to make sure that people know that Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration. It’s not a religious one, although it is certainly general in culture. So that whatever religion you’re practicing, you have the ability to celebrate Kwanzaa. It is not Christian or Muslim, or it can be celebrated by a myriad of religions. So you don’t have to give up your religion to practice your culture.

And I want to make sure that people know that you can make a distinction between your specific religion and your culture in which that religion is practiced. So all faiths can practice Kwanzaa. It doesn’t offer an alternative, but really it strives to provide a common ground of African culture. So let’s talk a little bit about Kuumba, and I’m just going to kind of highlight a little bit about Kuumba. Kuumba symbolizes a creative restoration, aiming to leave the community more beautiful and beneficial than inherited. And we’re talking about generations. So each generation should be looking to leave the community more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited it. It is grounded in the principles of progressive perfection, highlighting the responsibility to strive for continuous improvement, building on and enriching the legacy left by the previous generations. And the symbol that you tend to see that represents creativity represents the seven vibrations of divine creation.

And we can go back to ancient Egyptian teaching, where we see that they focus on living for eternity. And in order for us to build for eternity through great works and meaningful service to the community, we have to be thinking about how we are leaving our planet. Kuumba calls for a commitment to servanthood, recognizing that even small acts of service contribute to the greatness of a people, ensuring their names endure through the legacy of meaningful contributions to society. All of us cannot and will not build great works, but we all can serve, and that in itself can lead to greatness. Servanthood is to do that which is a value forever. A people called forth by its works will not die, or their names will be raised because of it as a byproduct of servanthood to the people.

According to the Black Storytellers Alliance, Kuumba is a commitment to being creative within the context of the national community vocation of restoring our people to their traditional greatness, leaving our community more beneficial than when we inherited it. It has both a social and spiritual dimension. When we think about Kuumba, it’s deeply rooted in social and sacred teachings of African societies. And so created doesn’t simply imply or mean that it was made out of nothing or clearly, that’s not the case, as the principles of Kwanzaa are grounded in African continental roots.

Okay, I have a guest who wants to say the Kwanzaa principle. Okay, Miles, go ahead.

Miles:  Umoja: Unity. To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. Amen.

Melyssa Barrett:  Amen. Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.