Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
The Founder's Message 1999

Professor Maulana Karenga
"Kwanzaa and the Ethics of Sharing: Forging our Future in a New Era"

Dr. Maulana Karenga       

December, 1999   At the heart of our celebration of Kwanzaa is the practice of pausing and turning inward as persons and a people and thinking deeply about the wonder and obligation of being African in the world. In a word, we are to measure ourselves in the mirror of the best of our history and culture and to ask ourselves where we stand in relationship to these highest of human standards. Although this dialog with our culture is emphasized during Kwanzaa, especially on the Day of Meditation, January 1, the last day of Kwanzaa, we know well that we are also obligated to engage in this essential self-questioning throughout the year and indeed throughout our lives.  


But clearly, this ongoing conversation with our culture takes on a special meaning this Kwanzaa. For this transitional period marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. And we say era rather than millenium, for on the oldest calendar in the world, the ancient Egyptian calendar, the new year will not be 2000 as on the Gregorian calendar, but rather the year 6240. Still we are at the juncture of a new era, not because of a date on a calendar, but because of the massive transformations that have occurred in the world and our rightful concern with the effect these changes will have on our lives, on the lives of peoples around the world and on the world itself.  


Among these changes that define this era are the new technologies, especially those in information systems, biomedicine and genetic modification and manipulation in humans, plants and animals. In such a context, we must ask what does this actually mean for us and the world and should we consider every scientific pursuit worthy and every technological development progress? What do these activities, especially genetic manipulation, mean for our concept of human uniqueness, human agency and human dignity and what is the difference between more access to data which our computers give us and real knowledge, critical thinking and grasping the essential for a good life?


Equally important, what kind of world will we leave for future generations and how can we struggle to insure that all real advances are a shared good? Also, this era is clearly defined by the increasing privatization of public and natural space, the suppression of liberation movements by major powers in the world and their client states and domestic dictators and the widespread exhaustion of old liberals, progressives and even many radicals. And we must ask what does this mean for human freedom and human flourishing and again how do we intervene to insure both.  


Our foremother, Mary McLeod Bethune taught us to respect the fact that we are heirs and custodians of a great legacy and thus we are obligated to bear the burden and glory of this legacy with strength, dignity and determination. No part of our legacy is more valuable than the unique ethical teaching of the Odu Ifa, the sacred text of our Yoruba ancestors, that we and all humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental meaning and mission of human life.  


As we move into the next decade and new era, no lesson is more important for us to learn from our history and culture than our need to recognize our interrelatedness as a people and part of humanity and our parallel need to establish and put in wider to practice an ethics of sharing which recognizes and builds on this interrelatedness in the most positive and mutually beneficial ways. In fact, this is an indispensable way to fulfill and further our moral obligation to constantly bring good into the world.  The concept of sharing in African culture is central to self-understanding and self-assertion in the world.


The spirit of sharing permeates the principles and practice of Kwanzaa. Each of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) which are the core principles of Kwanzaa, contain within it the concept and practice of sharing. Umoja (Unity) is a shared sense of relatedness in history, culture, identity and destiny. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) supports our shared right and responsibility to determine and live our shared life as persons and a people. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) speaks to our shared efforts and obligation to conceive and build the world we want and deserve to live in.


Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) is a principle of shared work and shared wealth based on kinship with each other and the world, and on our right to share equitably and responsibly in the natural and created good of the world.  Nia (Purpose) is rooted in our shared meaning and mission of human life to create and increase good in the world and not let any good be lost. The principle of Kuumba (Creativity) speaks to our shared obligation to do all we can constantly heal and repair the world, making it more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it. And finally, the principle of Imani (Faith) requires a shared belief and confidence in the Good and a steadfast commitment to increase Good in the world, preserve it and passes it onto the future generations.  


Our tradition teaches us that the best good is a shared good. Freedom, justice, love, sisterhood, brotherhood, friendship, family, community, culture and indeed life itself are all shared goods. We speak here then of the creation and increase of the common good. Indeed, the Odu Ifa says that essential good comes from a gathering together in harmony. But to cultivate and maintain his harmonious gathering together to create and increase good in the world, an ethics of sharing is indispensable. And this sharing must be in at least seven areas: (1) shared status; (2) shared knowledge; (3) shared space; (4) shared wealth; (5) shared power; (6) shared interests; and (7) shared responsibility.  


The principle of shared status is the foundational principle of the ethics of sharing and reaffirms the equal dignity and inherent worthiness of every person and people and the ancient principle found in The Husia which first taught the divine status and dignity of the human person.  The principle of shared knowledge speaks to the indispensable need for knowledge for human development and human flourishing and, therefore, recognizes education as a fundamental human right.  


The principle of shared space requires sharing our neighborhoods, the country and the environment with others in an equitable and ethical way. It speaks to morally sensitive immigration policies, urban, neighborhood and housing policies that preserve and expand public spaces and a environmental policy that respects the integrity and inherent value of the environment.  The principle of shared wealth requires an equitable distribution of wealth and just treatment of the worker in the interest of the common good, and it links the right to a life in dignity with the right to a decent life, a life in which people have the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, health care, physical and economic security and education  


The principle of shared power is essentially the right of self-determination, the meaningful and effective participation in decisions that affect and determine our destiny and daily lives in the context of cooperative efforts toward the common good . It speaks to the ancient Egyptian concept of politics as a shared ethical vocation to create a just and good society and a better world.  The principle of shared interests stresses the need for common ground in the midst of our diversity, beginning with our mutual commitment to the dignity and rights of the human person, the well being of family and community, the integrity and value of the environment and the reciprocal solidarity of humanity  


Finally, the principle of shared responsibility speaks to the need for our active commitment to and responsibility for building the communities, society and world we want and deserve to live in. And it emphasizes the need for us to recognize both the significance and urgency of our shared active responsibility. For as The Husia teaches, "every day is a donation to eternity and even one hour is a contribution to the future."
  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 definitive book on Kwanzaa titled Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. For current information on Kwanzaa see: and for information on The Organization Us see: