Residents all across the District are gearing up to celebrate Kwanzaa, the ancestral based holiday known by many as America’s Black Christmas.
The Smithsonian Anacostia Cultural Museum is rolling out the red carpet for the weeklong event, which starts the first day after Christmas.
“This year, [the museum] is celebrating 50 years of service for the D.C. community,” said Paul Perry, the museum’s director of education and outreach. “And as a part of our yearlong celebration, we are really excited to showcase our signature program, ‘Kwanzaa’ that has been happening for almost 15 years and is always abundantly well received throughout the community.
“We have a dedicated audience and mixed community,” he said. “This particular event goes far beyond just a good show. … It cements family structure, addresses items that Martin Luther King Jr. once preached and stimulates creativity. It’s a good time, free and something definitely worth participating in.”
The celebration will kick off Dec. 26 and run through Dec. 28 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Fort Stanton Recreation Center. The first event, “The Dancing Diplomat,” which will feature storytelling and more by Nana Malaya Rucker, will also incorporate audience participation and African percussion instruments.
“I love that the community still celebrates and supports Kwanzaa,” said Tina Smith, a former D.C. Public Schools teacher. “As Black residents, it’s important to reflect and maintain our own culture and not let society say or define who we are as a people. The principles that Kwanzaa stands on are very important and show other Black communities the real importance of coming and staying together.”
Established in 1966 by African Studies professor Maulana Karenga as one of the first specifically African-American holidays, the seven day celebration from Dec. 26 – Jan 1, is purposed to help people of color reconnect with their roots.
The word Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates into “first fruits of the harvest,” or simply “first fruits.”
The choice of Swahili, an East African language, is meant to reflect its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, with its roots in the Black nationalist movement of the 1960s.
Helping African-Americans to reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions, Kwanzaa heavily focuses on the Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African heritage,” and encourages the giving of handmade presents instead of store-bought gifts.
The seven principles include Umoja which means unity, Kujichagulia or self-determination, Ujima, for collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics, Nia, for purpose, Kuumba for creativity and Imani, which means faith, which will all be heavily utilized at during the museum’s celebration.
“Our Kwanzaa program is very unique in the community,” Perry said. “Every year we have between 300-500 people join in for a free event to learn, for free, more about themselves. It is a really special time and we encourage everyone to come out.”
Quotes that Capture the Spirit of Kwanzaa’s 7 Principles:
Umoja (Unity) — In union there is strength. ~ Aesop
Kujichagulia (Self-determination) — We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. ~ Langston Hughes
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) — Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. ~ Muhammad Ali
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) — We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Nia (Purpose) — For Africa to me … is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place. ~ Maya Angelou
Kuumba (Creativity) — A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together! ~ Unknown
Imani (Faith) — Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.