Embracing Kwanzaa: Why it’s More Relevant than Ever

Embracing Kwanzaa: Why it’s More Relevant than Ever

Dr. Ernest Levister

Tuesday, December 26 marked the start of Kwanzaa, the seven day festival celebrating African-American culture. In the 1980s and ‘90s, many considered Kwanzaa a mainstream holiday like Christmas and Hanukkah. But now there seems to be less fanfare. 

If you’ve been around a while, then you probably remember that in the 1980s and 1990s, Kwanzaa was one of the trifecta of winter holidays – along with Christmas and Hanukkah, of course – that got a lot of attention from the media; from retail establishments, including the big department stores; and artists. Soul singer Teddy Pendergrass released a song “Happy Kwanzaa” on his 1998 album “This Christmas I’d Rather Have Love.” 

Kwanzaa was started by Maulana Karenga, then Ron Everett, as kind of an extension of his organization United Slaves; just simply known as US. It was an attempt to find some sort of ritual celebration that would counteract white supremacy on one hand, but give African-Americans an opportunity to reflect on the past year, and to start thinking and planning for the next year hence its celebration December 26th to January 1st. 

As a number of us have pointed out, hating on Kwanzaa has been tolerated for some time. People every year talk about how it’s no longer relevant, or don’t you, celebrate it.. 

If there’s any opportunity for Black folks in this country to be able to come together and look backward at what we’ve just achieved in the past few years, (including the election of Doug Jones a Democrat to the Senate from Alabama) and have the opportunity to plan for our future, I think there’s always value in that. And I’m sure there would be younger generations of Black folks who will see some significance in Kwanzaa, even if it’s not practiced with the same intent that it might’ve been created in 1966. 

We reflect on the expansive meaning of being African in the world, on the context and issues of our times, and on our way forward in struggle to forge a future responsive to our needs and interests as well as those of the world,” Dr, Karenga said in 2016 acknowledging the milestone 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa. Even former President Obama has been quoted as saying that, Kwanzaa is a time to “reflect on the rich African-American culture,” that we bring to American culture. 

In today’s climate of burgeoning intolerance and hatred, I think it’s critical for us to support any traditions that resonate with our collective history and have the potential to propel us forward as a people.

Happy Kwanzaa!

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