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

Professor Maulana Karenga


                 Dr. Maulana Karenga

December, 1996

  Kwanzaa is essentially about family, community and culture and the principles and practices which reaffirm and bring out the best and most beautiful in them. It is a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them; a time of special reverence for the Creator, in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation; a time of commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of excellence, our ancestors; a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing efforts to be the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense; and a time for the celebration of the Good, the good of life and indeed, of existence, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word, the good of the divine, the social and the natural. Hotep. Ashe. Heri.   And so, on this 30th anniversary of Kwanzaa, we will again, as our ancestors thousands of years before us, come together at this important time of marking when the edges of the year meet to raise up the good in the world and to commit ourselves to constantly pursue the possible in that good. But this year is a special year requiring a more attentive focus and a reinforced commitment, not only because it is the 30th anniversary of celebrating Kwanzaa, but also because this Kwanzaa season comes at a critical time in our history and in the history of society and the world. It is a time of increased cynicism, suffering, alienation, aimlessness and immobilizing uncertainty in the world. Moreover, it is a time of decreasing concern for the vulnerable, a reduced sense of social responsibility, a diminished sense of the ethical and the good and an impoverished sense of the possible.   Thus, we must come to this special international celebration of our people, conscious more than ever of the need for us as African people to reaffirm our rootedness in African culture and to recover, discover and bring forth its essential message for this fundamental time of turning and challenge. Kawaida, the communitarian African philosophy out of which Kwanzaa is created, urges us to constantly dialog with African culture. That is to say, to constantly ask questions of it and seek answers from it to the fundamental questions of human life. In a word, we must use it as a rich and instructive resource for addressing the fundamental challenges of our time.   We are especially reminded during Kwanzaa that our culture comes with its own special way of being human in the world and that this particular African way of being human in the world provides a pathway to the universal. For it represents African peoples' way of engaging the fundamental concerns of humankind. Furthermore, our culture has evolved in the longest of histories and thus has amassed a rich and varied array of ancient and modern knowledge, understanding and wisdom concerning the world. Ours is a history of struggle, creativity, achievement and constant concern for the right, the just and the good. It is a history of ancient wonder and achievement in the Nile Valley, awesome tragedy and destruction in the Holocaust of Enslavement and impressive triumph in our constant struggle against overwhelming societal odds against us in modern times. Ours is a history of the determined celebration of life in the pale and frozen face of death, of an unbreakable will to live, build and push our lives forward in spite of the circumstances which surround us. And ours is a history of an ongoing commitment to raise up the good even in the midst of the most horrific evil and to pursue the possible in spite of the catechism of impossibilities repeatedly offered us.   Our history and culture, then have defined our duty as The Sacred Husia says: to constantly raise up the good and pursue the possible in it; to speak truth, do justice, care for the vulnerable, honor our elders and ancestors, cherish and challenge our children, to maintain a right relationship with the environment, resist wrong and struggle for what is right, and constantly seek after that which will be good for the future. At Kwanzaa, we must remember and reaffirm these ancient and elemental teachings by raising them up and recommitting ourselves to them through study, discussion and practice. This is called in Kawaida philosophy, "bearing the glory and burden of our history with strength, dignity and determination."   Our discussion of the good and possible is particularly focused in our raising up the good of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles. These are the hub and hinge on which Kwanzaa turns, the core of its moral and social consciousness. It is in this framework, we speak our special cultural truth and make our own unique contribution to addressing the challenges of living a moral, meaningful and productive life in our time.   The principle of Umoja (unity) speaks to the human need for belonging, relating closely and being in solidarity with others. And it teaches the moral value of constantly striving to achieve and maintain this relatedness on the level of the personal, family, community, nation, and indeed the world. The principle underlines the need for a harmonious togetherness which links peace with freedom and justice and is ultimately rooted in an ethics of sharing: shared space, shared wealth, shared power and shared responsibility for our building the community, society and world we want to live in.   The second principle Kujichagulia (self-determination) speaks to our moral obligation to respect and insist on respect for our particular way of being human in the world, to avoid the apish imitation of others which denies or diminishes our dignity and equality and to constantly bring forth from within our own culture the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. The principle of Ujima (collective work and responsibility) reaffirms the fact that we must build the moral community we want to live in, that we are responsible for and to each other and that the historical quest for the morally grounded and empowered community, the just and good society and the better world is neither realizable nor conceivable without the personal and collective efforts of us all.   The principle of Ujamaa (cooperative economics) in its most expansive sense means shared work and shared wealth rooted in a profound sense of kinship with other humans and the environment. It teaches us to be constantly concerned in our economic practice with the dignity of the human person, with the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment, and especially with the vulnerable among us: the poor, the ill, the aged, the captive, the disabled, the refugee and the stranger. For ours is a consciousness born of ancient ethical teaching and the historical experience of the vulnerability of the "motherless child, a long ways from home" as expressed in our sacred songs.   The principle of Nia (purpose) speaks to the challenge to act, to choose, to participate and to accept responsibility of a collective vocation and the meaning and motivation it gives us. Our purpose is to raise up the good constantly and pursue the possible in it, to reaffirm the best of our culture with its rich social justice tradition, and its instructive history of struggles for the decent and dignity-affirming, and for freedom, justice and peace in the world.   The principle of Kuumba (creativity) raises up the ancient principle of serudj ta, the need to constantly create and recreate the world and all in it, to repair and restore it, replenish and reaffirm the good in it, making it more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. It is also a challenge to be place-makers and way-makers and to leave models of excellence and possibility in the tradition of the ancestors.   And finally, the principle of Imani (faith) teaches us to have faith in the good and the right, but to recognize the profound insufficiency of faith alone. It teaches us that our faith in the Transcendent and ourselves, and in the possibility of right and good in the world must be joined with love, hard work, and long struggle which bring into being the world we want to live in. So let us go forth in faith then working and struggling in such a way that we honor our ancestors, enrich and expand our lives and give promise to our descendants. In this way, we express the best of our faith by living the best of our culture.
  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 definitive text on Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, Commemorative Edition.

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