We have received a significant number of comments and criticisms concerning our letter about Kwanzaa. Many contend that Kwanzaa is a “made up” holiday – a holiday created to separate the black community from society. Others quickly denounce its founder, Maulana Karenga, as a criminal and an abuser of women.
Maulana Karenga, a black activist, created Kwanzaa in 1966, during the aftermath of the Watts riots and at the height of the struggle for equality, civil rights, and human rights. Granted, initially Karenga stated that his goal was to “Give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate a practice of the dominant society.”
Without doubt, Karenga has a checkered past. However, today, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa have a much broader meaning – a much broader context than even Karenga had imagined in 1966.
For example, Umoja, represented by the black candle in the middle of the kinara, represents unity in a righteous struggle. Society’s struggle – our struggle – is to replace acrimony and hostility with understanding and compassion, to supplant ignorance with wisdom, to focus on the unity of an entire community instead of division and derision, and to promote equal and human rights for all Americans. We, as a society, need to make a sincere effort to eliminate ignorance and intolerance, to replace hatred with love, and to instill peace where violence once flourished.
Indeed, this is a noble, righteous struggle. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa – the seven candles – can serve as the guiding light to show us the way.
Imagine that! A concept that had been intended to be “separatist” can actually bring all of us together in a united effort against bigotry, discrimination, hatred, and violence.
John Di Genio and and Albert J. Cupo