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What Is Kwanzaa? Day One: Celebrating Umoja
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Happy Umoja! Sadly, celebrations of Kwanzaa are most definitely on the decline. What is Kwanzaa? I wanted to take an opportunity to try and bring Kwanzaa back to awareness in the minds of “African Americans”, (btw, I greatly preferred the term “Afro-Americans”, but I will try very hard to reserve that conversation for Kujichagulia – be sure to follow the series to find out what that means!) and Americans as a whole.

First, a little bit of history. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, the professor and chair of Africana Studies at Cal State Long Beach. I think it is really cool that the creator of this series of days of observance is still alive! I also really like the fact that Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. It is quite conceivable for a family to celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa in one year! As for my own family, Christmas is celebrated more as a family holiday than a religious holiday, as we believe that every Sunday should be a celebration of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection… if not every day!!! So the concept of adding Kwanzaa as another family holiday I feel enriches our celebrations without adding to or taking away from any other observance.

December 26, the day after Christmas is the day to observe Umoja, which means unity. The theme for this day is to “strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”

So, I have to spend some time reflecting on how to do this for my own family and my own community first. I think one of the major problems facing the African American community is the breakdown of the family. A recent search on the internet revealed that black families are less likely to marry in the first place, but when they are, they are far more likely to divorce. How can we strive to change this among our racial population? Why is it that we are not so likely to marry in the first place? My stepdaughter recently told me that she would like to have children in the next 5-6 years (she is 19), but that she is not interested in getting married.

Yes, notice that I did say stepdaughter. I have known her for a very long time… long enough to be aware of the long lasting effects of divorce on her life, even into her budding adulthood. As with much of America, the blending of our families, never really “takes” and our children are left as casualties. I think a lot of this comes down to education. I really was not aware of the impact that divorce can have on children.

I think that our families are in such dire straits right now that it is necessary to focus on strengthening this area before we can even attempt to improve our communities. It all starts with baby steps, though. I am a Christian, and even with this full suit of armor, I have considered divorce more times than I care to remember. I am grateful that my husband fought for me and for our marriage every step of the way, even though it was usually me that he was fighting against! I am grateful that I don’t have to deal with the more difficult sides that some face in their marriages, such as infidelity, chronic illness, substance dependencies, or many other hard-hitting problems that many marriages have to face. I know that I am not immune to any of that, however, so I have been trying to look upon my own situation with a lot more gratitude.

I really had to seek the guidance of the Lord on this one and feel I got the message to stay in my marriage. Although my husband irritates me a lot in many different ways sometimes (as I’m sure I do the same for him!), I am glad that he did fight for our marriage. Had he not, our children would have had to deal with the effects of divorce as well. Indeed, they still have to deal with the effects of divorce when they are not able to see their older siblings as much as they would like or when their siblings leave to go to their own house after a long visit with our family.

Divorce is certainly not the answer, neither is the creation of children out of wedlock. Marriage is designed to unite a woman and man to protect their family. I think that one of the strongest things we can do to promote Umoja in the interest of Kwanzaa is to strengthen our families, respect our children, and cherish our homes. Umoja!


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