Kwanzaa ties African-Americans to their roots
December 26, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Greg LaMotte
(CNN) -- African-Americans on Thursday began the seven-day
celebration known as Kwanzaa to acknowledge the uniqueness of
their African heritage. (Celebrating Kwanzaa - 1.5M/36 sec. QuickTime movie)
"The good of life. The good of existence. The good of family,
community and culture. The good of the awesome and the
ordinary. The good of the divine, the natural and the
That is how Professor Maulana Karenga, African-American
scholar and activist, describes the cultural celebration he
developed following the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Kwanzaa
was first observed in 1966 and reflects the civil rights
struggles of that decade. The holiday also is celebrated in
Canada, England, the Caribbean and Africa.
The secular holiday that ends New Year's Day is based on a
theory that social revolutionary change for black Americans
can be achieved by exposing them to their African culture,
said Karenga, chairman of the Department of Black Studies at
California State University in Long Beach.
"It's like discovering who and what I'm about as an
African-American woman, and that we have celebrations that we
can honor, as the Jewish have Hanukkah and everybody has
Christmas. So it has a very deep meaning," one
African-American woman explained.
"It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my culture," a
little girl responded when asked what Kwanzaa means to her.
Family and community
The celebration is based on seven principles, with a special
emphasis on family unity, and every day one of the candles on
a seven-branched candelabrum is lighted to recognize one of
the beliefs: unity, self-determination, collective work and
responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity
Although not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa has growing support
from African-American churches.
"I've encouraged my congregation to embrace those significant
elements in African-American culture that bring life to us as
a congregation, that embraces the community, that calls us
together as people to celebrate who we are," said the Rev.
Andrew Robinson-Gaither of Faith United Methodist Church.
There also are other signs that African-Americans have
enthusiastically embraced Kwanzaa.
Shops in African-American communities are finding increased
demand for items related to the holiday. There are parades to
celebrate community unity, and private celebrations to
emphasize family unity.
Kwanzaa, which means first fruits, is the harvest of African
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.