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Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
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The Founder's Message 2002

Professor Maulana Karenga

2002

"KWANZAA AND THE SHARING OF GOOD IN THE WORLD:

VISION, PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE"


    Dr. Maulana Karenga
Creator of Kwanzaa
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-----Kwanzaa is a season of celebrating, embracing and reaffirming the Good in the world, the Good of the World and Good for the world. It begins as an ancient African celebration of the good harvest, the gathering and sharing of good in the world. In its most expansive form, as the ancestors said, it is a joyful and grateful celebration of "all that heaven gives, the earth produces and the waters bring forth from their depths." Thus, the vision, principles and practice of Kwanzaa are rooted in and reflective of this quest for and commitment to good in the world, the good of family, community and culture, the good of flower, forest, fruit tree and field, the good of life and all living things, the good of nature in all its infinite and varied beauty and bountifulness.  

Indeed, each year we remember and repeat with profound reverence the teachings of the Odu Ifa which say "humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world;" and that this is the fundamental mission and meaning in human life (78:1). Moreover, the teachings say we are morally obligated to constantly and eagerly "struggle to increase good in the world and not let any good be lost." Clearly in our time, in this period of crisis, confrontation and calls to war, there is no greater challenge nor any greater responsibility for us as an African people than to constantly and eagerly struggle to bring, increase and sustain good in the world. And Kwanzaa serves as a season for special attention to this ongoing obligation and struggle.  

So, as we come again this year to this holiday of harvesting and reaffirming the Good, we must pause and think deeply about the world around us and ask how do we as persons and a people address the critical issues of our time? In a word, how do we structure this season of celebration so that it best serves its central call for sober reflection and recommitment to our highest values and the personal and social practices which they reinforce and require?  

For Kwanzaa is also a time of serious and sustained reflection on the meaning and awesome obligation of being African in the world. In the midst of our ingathering, reverent thankfulness, remembrance, recommitment and joyous celebration, there is a special time set aside for us to sit down and think deeply about the world and our role and responsibility in it as those chosen to bring good in the world. Moreover, even as our ancestors taught that we are chosen by heaven to bring good in the world, we are likewise chosen by history to engage in this ongoing effort also. That is to say, the motive forces and overarching aims of our history have thrust on us a special role and responsibility of bringing good in the world. This, of course, is the meaning of the often repeated teaching of our foremother Mary McLeod Bethune who taught us that "we are heirs and custodians of a great legacy" and thus we must bear the burden and glory of this legacy with strength, dignity and determination. Indeed, our history has produced a legacy whose lessons and demands we are obligated to honor. And at the core of this legacy is our ethical tradition, the oldest in the world and the resource and reference for some of humanity's most cherished moral and spiritual principles. It is a tradition rooted in our ancient and ongoing concern for the world and all in it and in the rich and instructive lessons born of our life and struggle as African people throughout the centuries of our awesome walk in the world.  

Surely, no other people's history and struggle for good in the world is as long as ours or more significant than ours. We stood up first at the dawn of human history, spoke the first human truth, defined humans as bearers of dignity and divinity, insisted on the oneness of being, the sacredness of life and the integrity of the environment and advocated freedom for the oppressed, justice for the wrong and injured, and the harvesting and sharing of the world's good for everyone. And we put these and other ethical and spiritual principles down in books, on the walls of our temples, tombs and pyramids, on the insides of our coffins and deep within the hearts and minds of our people. And others of the world came, listened and learned, borrowed from and built on this enduring legacy of African and human moral and spiritual understanding and initiative in the world.  

This tradition evolves in the Nile Valley in the midst of an unsurpassed level of human achievement and excellence in antiquity. It is tested and tempered in the Holocaust of enslavement, as we struggled to free ourselves, change society, and hold on to our humanity in the most inhuman and barbaric situation. And it was reaffirmed in the 60's as we struggled to return to our history and culture, expand the realm of freedom and contribute meaningfully to building the good community, society, and world we all want and deserve to live in.  

During this season of celebration, remembrance, reflection and recommitment, then let us keep in mind our obligations taught to us by the ancestors as those chosen by heaven and history to bring good into the world. And let us remember also that even though we are chosen, chosen to bring good into the world, we must also choose to do it. In a word, even as we are chosen, we must also choose to be chosen, that is to say, choose to act in such a way that we seriously and humbly accept the assignment and honor the special status given to us. Each of us, then, must choose good over evil, life over death, love over hate, freedom over oppression, peace over war, justice over injustice, right over wrong and creativity over destruction in the world.   Moreover, we must realize that choosing good is not a simple or easy matter but rather a constant struggle, especially in a context of crisis, fear, force and confusion which so defines this critical juncture in the history of society and world. Nor is it easy in a context where we are given simpler, less costly and more convenient alternatives. Indeed, the ancestors understood the nature of this challenge and thus taught in the Odu Ifa that we don't always choose well or rightly and "therefore we are constantly struggling, all of us."  

This constant struggle within ourselves to bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human is both a personal and social practice. It is a teaching of the Husia that we must "set goodness under our house" and that we must "love justice, hate wrongdoing and always do what is good." To set goodness under our house is the personal aspect of this struggle and means that we are to lay the foundation of goodness in our lives through the practice of principles which affirm dignity, enhance life and represent the best of our unique African way of being human in the world. The Husia also teaches that our struggle to bring good into the world likewise requires us to "set goodness before the people." To set goodness before the people is to do good in the world in such a way that we contribute meaningfully to improving the human condition, enhancing the human future and do honor to the people, legacy and name African.

Let us then set goodness under our house and set goodness before the people this Kwanzaa by recommitting ourselves as always to our highest values, speaking truth, doing justice, caring for the vulnerable, maintaining a rightful relation with the environment, resisting evil and always raising up and pursuing the good. And clearly at the core of these overarching values are the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the hub and hinge on which the holiday Kwanzaa turns and the framework for practicing values which represent the best of what it means to be African and human in the world. These values are: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith). Through the continued practice of these principles we will strengthen and sustain our struggle and with other progressive forces forge a future of ever expanding good in the world.

Hotep. Ase. Heri.       Heri za Kwanzaa    (Happy Kwanzaa)!

_____________________________________December, 2002

Dr. Maulana Karenga is creator of Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba; professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach; chair of The Organization Us and the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO); author of the authoritative book on Kwanzaa titled Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. For current information on Kwanzaa see: www.Official KwanzaaWebsite.org and for information on The Organization Us see: www.Us-Organization.org.

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