Please Don’t Say “Happy Kwanzaa”

Denise Cooper Career Success, Empathy and Communication, Managing Diversity 0 Comments

Kinara KwanzaaThis time of the year people can get a bit of off centered.  And in the midst of a huge celebration called Christmas and trying to figure out what to do to ring in the New Year many in the Black community are celebrating Kwanzaa which means first fruits.

The problem is folks want to be “culturally or politically” correct. You know sensitive to my heritage and beliefs but feeling awkward trying to figure out just how to do it.  Every year that awkwardness culminates with how should I greet my Black or African American friends to recognize the celebration in a way that honors them?”  Should I say “Happy or Merry Kwanzaa or just not say anything?”  Oh by the way, I notice the same awkwardness as we try to honor all kinds of non-Christian celebrations and rituals.

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga, founded Kwanzaa.  According to his website, Kwanzaa was a celebration Black history and the powerful principles that sustained us through slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Kwanzaa is a communal ritual each day we reflect and review one principle and teach children how to use them to succeed in this life.

Growing up in a very traditional Baptist family there was never a question of what came first or what we were celebrating. There was church service honoring little baby Jesus by all the children. Oh and of course bring on the Christmas gifts!  But I think my parents struggled with celebrating Kwanzaa.  To them, there wasn’t a need to participate in a community ritual telling everybody what we did. They taught us actions mattered. Kwanzaa’s 7 principles were an embodiment of our core values and they didn’t see the need for public displays.

The lessons I learned from the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa

Principles of Kwanzaa--600x763

  1. Unity (Umoja) – being on one accord in our family and community doesn’t mean we all think alike, act alike or even like the same things. The one accord is family and community are the foundation of our strength. It means we are all in this together. We are responsible and accountable for our actions and the impact of our actions towards ourselves, each other and our world.
  2. Self Determination (Kujichagulia) – to understand we determine, for ourselves individually and collectively, our values, beliefs and how to live out our highest expression of our best self.
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) – just another way of saying teamwork.  Together we can do so much more than individually.
  4. Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – to build and operate our own shops, nourishing our family structure and community through the appropriate use of money.
  5. Purpose – (Nia) – each of us has an individual purpose that is tied to the collective purpose.  Know it and don’t be afraid to live it. For not doing so is doing everyone – including you – a disservice.
  6. Creativity (Kuumba) – We all have the ability to be creative – to bring beauty into the world.  Find your way of leaving this place better than you found it.
  7. Faith (Imani) – believing in that which is unseen for in doing so you bring into the world that which you believe.

So I titled this “don’t say Happy Kwanzaa” for a reason and I hope by now you understand why that greeting is inappropriate. Saying Happy Kwanzaa is like saying happy living out your core values.

It’s ok to ask me whether I honor or celebrate Kwanzaa. If so, how do I commemorate it?  For me, honoring the core values of Kwanzaa is like thinking about the next year at the highest level. Lighting the candles either on my table or in my heart focuses and activates my thoughts which become desires which become my goals or my New Year’s resolution(s).

I hope this post helps my white friends understand Kwanzaa better and to all my friends and followers my hope is that you will use these 7 days to think about your core values and how you will align them with your actions for 2014.

Happy New Year and have a joyous celebration of your principles.

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 “Denise Cooper is a reinvention strategist and success coach at CoachHR.  She works with people who have lost their mojo – that wonderful feeling of success that comes from doing what you love to do.

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