MAXWELL:  A Kwanzaa call for action

1/1/2008 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Like others nationwide, thousands of blacks in the Tampa Bay area are celebrating Kwanzaa.

Since Wednesday, the first day of the annual seven-day celebration that ends on New Year’s Day, blacks have been sporting colorful African-themed garb, making rousing speeches, singing, eating and drinking, honoring notables who have inspired us and, of course, swearing that we will right the wrongs in our personal lives, families and communities.

At its core, Kwanzaa is a worthy festival – but only if its seven principles are taken seriously and earnestly put into action. Otherwise, like so many other rituals, it is a mockery of good intentions.
Kwanzaa, a derivation of the Swahili word that means “first fruits,” is a new phenomenon, created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a black nationalist. He believed that if blacks, with ancestral roots in Africa, were to live viably in the United States, we need a cultural esprit de corps that gives us an unequivocal sense of “identity, purpose and direction.”

As such, Karenga rejected myth and religiosity in writing Kwanzaa’s principles. Instead, the principles appealed to tradition and reason, he said, “by which black people must live in order to begin to receive and reconstruct our history and lives…. They are social principles, dealing with ways for relating to others and rebuilding lives and a more positive image.”

Karenga, a rationalist, believed that black success, expressed in the seven principles, requires “introspective confrontation of self and society, demands political action rather than non-action and emphasizes building (rather) than crippling destruction.”

If we blacks would put Kwanzaa’s principles into action, we would thrive in every area of life and would be role models for others. However, ample evidence – black-on-black homicide, neglect of our homes and streets, drug addiction and trafficking, our disregard for education – shows that we have failed to live up to any of Kwanzaa’s ideals.

Here are the seven principles:

“Umoja (unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.”

“Kujichaluglia (self-determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves rather than allow others to do these things for us.”

“Ujima (collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together to make our sister and brothers’ problems our problems and to solve them together.”

“Ujamaa (cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

“Nia (purpose): to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”

“Kuumba (creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.”

“Imani (faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Again, Kwanzaa is a worthy celebration. But if it is to have real meaning, we blacks should resolve for 2008 and for the rest of our lives to put the seven principles into action every day.