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The Celebration of Kwanzaa


Kwanzaa began 38 years ago as a cultural celebration for African-Americans as well as for Africans throughout the world. It was created by an African-American to reinforce the values of African culture that focus on family and community ties. Kimberly Russell produced this report, narrated by Carol Pearson.

For many African-Americans, the holiday period between December 26 and January 1 has taken on new meaning with the celebration of Kwanzaa.

"Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday based on first fruits festivals in various African countries where there is a re-spiritualization, and a purpose of giving thanks back to the Creator for collectively being able to harvest the first fruits of the crop, and to recollect and to renew oneself for a New Year's effort," explains Reverend Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Reverend Wilson's Union Temple Baptist Church has been celebrating Kwanzaa for more than 20 years.

"As Dr. Ron Karenga established it back in 1966, there are seven principles that correspond to the seven symbols and the seven candles in the kinara, or candle holder, and each day a different principal is discussed," he explains. "The first principal is Umoja, which means unity. The second is Kujichagulia, meaning self-determination. The third, is Ujima, collective work and responsibility. The fourth is Ujamaa, which is cooperative economics. The fifth is Nia, which means purpose. The sixth is Kuumba which means creativity. And the seventh is Imani, which means faith."

On one particular night, the congregation celebrates Ujamma, Swahili for "cooperative economics," the fourth principal of Kwanzaa.

"The African-American Development Cooperation will be talking about certain of the African-American businesses in the city, and how, in a unified, collective effort, we can work together to generate funds, create jobs, in our own community," Reverend Wilson says.

"What Kwanzaa does, is it helps us establish values," says Dorothy Winbush Riley, author of The Complete Kwanzaa. "It helps us to establish rituals for our children. If we want certain values passed. If we want certain images transmitted, we must be the ones to set down our rituals, and we must be the ones to teach our children. And that's what prompted us at this time of the year we can reflect and we can decide what it is that's important. And we can help our children to focus, and we can pass on legacies, traditions, survival techniques, everything that we need to our children, and they know that at the end of the year, something is expected."

Kwanzaa gives African-Americans an opportunity to reunite with family and friends, while paying tribute to their cultural heritage.