7 Principles of Kwanzaa

As people turn in on Christmas night, some feel sad that the warmth of the holiday season is coming to a close. Others are relieved, because the gaudy commercialism has worn them out. What these people don't realize is that for many African American families the holiday season is just warming up with a cultural festival called Kwanzaa.

Although Kwanzaa has existed for over 30 years, some African American families are still deciding whether or not to embrace the holiday. Some feel that it's too complicated. Others worry that it conflicts with their religious beliefs. I believe it's a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the ways that I, as an individual, can affect family and the community.

When I was a junior in college, I published my first article about Kwanzaa. At that time, I knew very little about it. My family and I had attended many Kwanzaa celebrations, and I continued to go to them in college. But I had never observed the holiday for its seven-day duration. I barely knew its principles in English, let alone Swahili. It was around that time when my mom and I decided together to make a conscious effort of recognizing Kwanzaa in our home.

Nguzo Saba: 7 Principles to Live By

Kwanzaa's Nguzo Saba (seven principles) have helped broaden how I view my life. The more I think about them, the more I realize that my parents have been teaching me these principles all of my life. Now I understand that the holiday is an extension of these teachings.


1. Imani: Faith
My father and mother have always told me to live each day by Imani. This principle is faith. I believe that God has a plan for my life and that He could never fail me even when I fail to reflect Him.

2. Nia: Purpose
Finding Nia (purpose) helps me recognize the importance of what I do. I therefore struggle constantly to eliminate those elements that are destructive or not in accord with this plan.

3. Umoja: Unity
Unity binds me to my brothers and sisters throughout the African diaspora and helps me realize that giving back is not only a gift that I can give but a responsibility that I have.

4. Ujamaa: Cooperative economics
Cooperative economics is the blood of three generations coursing through my veins. My grandfather owned a restaurant, my mother owns an antique business, and I, too, aspire to have my own business. My family has ingrained in me the need to support black-owned businesses as a patron and proprietor.

5. Kumba: Creativity
Creativity is the cornerstone of my work. It lives in the plays, poems and articles that are born of me.

6. Ujima: Collective work and responsibility
Ujima (collective work and responsibility) has helped me realize that Umoja, Ujamaa, Kumba and Imani combine to form a support team that works to achieve my dreams--dreams that include offering a helping hand to others.

7. Kujichagulia: Self-determination
Finally, Kujichagulia (self-determination) teaches me the strength of an individual in the grand scheme. It takes only one person to realize the power that she has to change the world…


So, on that note, Kwanzaa will remain in my heart year round. It's the shape of the celebration that will change as my family grows.

--Keishia N. Lee

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