Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
The Founder's Message 1997

Professor Maulana Karenga


                 Dr. Maulana Karenga

December, 1995

  This Kwanzaa season comes in the train of the Million Man March/Day of Absence which was by all standards a joint project of historic proportion and significance. And the project will maintain enduring meaning, not only because it brought together in an impressive demonstration of resistance and affirmation, a million plus men and women to Washington and millions more in parallel Day of Absence activities across the country, but also because of the principles it put forth and upheld. And as we light our candles this Kwanzaa, it is important to remember and meditate on the meaning of this ancient and instructive ritual in light of the Million Man March/Day of Absence and its significance for us as a people, this country and the world. For to light the Kwanzaa candles is, above all, to lift up the light that lasts, that is to say, to uphold life-affirming and enduring principles, principles which reaffirm the good and dignity of life and which reaffirm and reinforce family, community and culture. This Kwanzaa ritual is a reflection of an ancient ethical tradition of lifting up the light that lasts in a social and practical way. And the Million Man March/Day of Absence and all our struggles for right, good and justice are expressions of this.   The lighting of the candles is a daily ritual during Kwanzaa, then, which symbolizes the lifting up of the light that lasts and reflects an ethical tradition older than the ritual itself. Thus, in the ancient Egyptian sacred text, The Husia, the vindicated one says, "I have driven away darkness so that light could be lifted up," to wit: "I spoke truth; I did justice; I protected the weak from the strong; I was a shelter for the needy; and I constantly searched after that which would be good for the future." The mishumaa saba, the Seven Candles, which we light represent the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles which stand at the heart of the meaning and practice of Kwanzaa. These Seven Principles are: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). The candles are placed securely in the kinara, the candleholder, which is the symbol of our ancestry. And this expresses the rootedness of our principles in the way of the ancestors. The colors of the candles are Black, Red and Green, symbolizing respectively our people, our struggle and the future and promise that comes through struggle. And so when we light the candles we pay homage to the Seven Principles and the history and culture in which they are rooted. Moreover, we lift up related principles which reaffirm and reinforce family, community and culture. And it is this lasting light that links us to the transcendent and eternal. For it is an ancient teaching that the material passes away but the spiritual and the ethical are enduring. Thus it is written: "We are given that which endures in the midst of that which is overthrown" (The Husia). And it is the best of this spiritual and ethical heritage that we must use to speak our special truth to the world and build the moral community, society and world we want to live in.   The Million Man March/Day of Absence and Kwanzaa share this commitment to lifting up the light that lasts in several ways. First, both Kwanzaa and the Million Man March/Day of Absence reaffirm commitment to the best of our ethical tradition. As the Mission Statement says this is an ancient and living tradition "which requires respect for the dignity and rights of the human person, economic justice, meaningful political participation, shared power, cultural integrity, mutual respect of all peoples and uncompromising resistance to forces and structures which deny or limit these." Secondly, both Kwanzaa and the Million Man March/Day of Absence put emphasis on the centrality of family, community and culture and the need to practice principles of "equality, complementarity, mutual respect and shared responsibility in love, life and struggle." Thirdly, both Kwanzaa and the Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement hold up the Seven Principles, the Nguzo Saba, as a central set of principles that reaffirm and strengthen family, community and culture and give us a common moral and social ground on which to stand and build. Fourthly, Kwanzaa and the Million Man March/Day of Absence put forth as an indispensable principle for any cooperative and common project the principle of operational unity: unity in diversity, unity without uniformity and unity in principle and practice. Finally, Kwanzaa and the Mission Statement for the Million Man March/Day of Absence were created and composed in the framework of Kawaida philosophy which is an ongoing synthesis of the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world. And in each case my essential goal was to create a holiday and compose a document that honored the best of our tradition, that united us in our commonality in spite of our differences, that remind and enable us to lift up the light that lasts and speak our special cultural truth to the world.   And so, when we light the candles this Kwanzaa let us come and stand before the kinara, remembering the best of our history and our obligation to bear the burden and glory of it with strength, dignity and determination. And let us lift up the light that lasts as the Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement says by "bringing the most central views and values of our faith communities, our deepest commitments to our social justice tradition and the struggle it requires, the most instructive lessons of our history, and a profoundly urgent sense of the need for positive and productive action." For by doing this, "we honor our ancestors, enrich our lives and give promise to our descendants." And through our historic work and struggle to always lift up the light that lasts, we will "always know and introduce ourselves to history and humanity as a people who are spiritually and ethically grounded; who speak truth, do justice, respect our ancestors and elders, cherish, support and challenge our children, care for the vulnerable, relate rightfully to the environment, struggle for what is right and resist what is wrong, honor our past, willingly engage our present and self-consciously plan for and welcome our future."   Finally, the light that lasts, this ethical and spiritual heritage of ours, must be kept and constantly shared as a rich heritage that rightly belongs to us. And thus the ancestors teach in the Yoruba Ifa Texts (104):

"Hold on to this thing of value. Keep it safe. And if you are asked for it, it should be brought forth upon request. This is called trustworthiness. And it is ordained that anyone who returns things to their owners will always prosper."

  Dr. Maulana Karenga is the creator of the holiday of Kwanzaa; Professor and Chair of the Department of Black Studies, California State University at Long Beach; Chairman of The Organization Us and The National Association of Kawaida Organizations; and author of the African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, The Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement and co-author of The Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology.

For Dr. Karenga's newly released book on Kwanzaa contact: University of Sankore Press, 2560 West 54th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90043 (323) 295-9799 or (800) 997-2656 For press information contact: African American Cultural Center (Us), 2560 West 54th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 299-6124; Fax: (323) 299-0261