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Celebrating the Green in Kwanzaa

December 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Acknowledging the need for each of us to work towards the protection of the environment, we’re celebrating the green in Kwanzaa this year.


Black, red, and green are the colors of Kwanzaa, the weeklong celebration (December 26 to January 1) in the United States honoring African heritage and tradition. Kwanzaa (derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning ‘first fruits of the harvest’) includes activities like candle-lighting, libations, story-telling, a feast, and gift giving.

Compared to Christmas or Hanukah, the celebration is relatively new, created in 1966 by Ron Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at the California State University. There has been a number of criticism to Kwanzaa’s recent provenance and authenticity, but the principles of Kwanzaa – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith – are undeniably excellent guideposts to the good life, for individuals and communities.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa represents a core principle of this tradition – immutable values that resonate across racial and ethnic divides. Acknowledging the worsening climate crisis and the need for each of us to work towards the protection of the environment, we’re emphasizing the green color of Kwanzaa this year. Joe Laur at Greenopolis has written about green practices that could fit into the principles of Kwanzaa, and it’s a brilliant piece:

Umoja (Unity) – The first day of Kwanzaa, I can change my mind about being a solo actor. Everything is connected. We’re all part of a greater whole- this planet, and what we do or don’t do extends far beyond our own lives. Everything I do has the potential to make a difference to someone else, and to the ecosphere. There’s no them there, there’s no there there, there’s just us, here.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – I can do this. The process of slimming down the amount of stuff and energy I use, the garbage I create, and recycling it all can seem daunting. But I can take that first step. Today I will recycle something I never have before.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – I don’t have to do this alone, and it’s more fun and effective saving the planet as part of a team. Today I’ll reach out to a neighbor, friend or family member and figure out something we can do together, like plant some trees, start an electronics recycling drive or organize a river cleanup.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – There’s gold in those hills of trash. Building on the collective work of yesterday, today I’ll look into recycling golf balls with friends or collecting returnable bottles and cans, or some other endeavor that will turn trash into treasure. I’ll start supporting green businesses in my neighborhood.

Nia (Purpose) – There’s no such thing as a small action when done for a higher purpose. Today I’ll do something large or small that supports a major earth issue, like driving a little less to save fuels and CO2 emissions, turning down the thermostat, buy something that supports a local or green business, or educate a child on the importance of taking care of the earth in everything we do.

Kuumba (Creativity) – Today I’ll turn something useless or old into something new and useful. I’ll make my own kinara (candle holder), mkeka (placemat), or Kikombe cha umoja (communal unity cup). I can do it with a friend or child to support the unity and cooperative work principles.

Imani (Faith) – I will adopt the attitude that I can make a difference in every small action I take, and that together, we can turn the corner on conserving our green planet for the next generation and the ones after that.

Watch: Tasneem Grace Tewogbola of Syracuse, New York shares the principles of Kwanzaa with her 4-year old daughter Yemurai.

Today, 43 years after its founding, Kwanzaa is still celebrated by millions of people throughout the United States. An estimated 4.7 million Americans celebrate Kwanzaa every year, although some sources put the number at 28 million.

In New York, the Cannon Street Center hosted a Kwanzaa celebration with children from 6 to 14 years of age. At the Southwest center on South Avenue, ceremonies will be Monday through Wednesday evenings and Thursday in the afternoon. In Chicago, the Bronzeville Children’s Museum features “Poetic Kwanzaa,” which includes a performance by Poetic Storyteller Oba William King. Malcolm X College will also host a series of Kwanzaa events featuring jazz trumpeter Corey Wilkes and other performing artists and public speakers.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Photo: Greenopolis

Tags: Environment