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Celebrating Black-ness, African-ness during Kwanzaa

Takiya Nur Amin comes from a multi-faith family of Christians and Muslims and spends the joyful holiday season in December, celebrating Kwanzaa.

Celebrated predominantly by the African diaspora in the United States but also in other parts of the world, Kwanzaa is a week-long appreciation of African history, heritage, culture, values, and shared core principles. 

In our interview with Ms. Amin, she discusses the roots of the celebration in her family, what Kwanzaa means to her, and what she would like non-African-Americans to know. 

What is your cultural-ethnic background?

My racial identity is Black and my cultural - ethnic background is African-American.

What motivated your family to celebrate Kwanzaa? How did they first learn about it?

My family first learned about Kwanzaa through a 1966 community-based celebration of the holiday hosted in our hometown of Buffalo, New York. They were excited to have a Pan-African celebration to share with their children and our family and began celebrating in the home in 1967.

 

Have you been told stories about the very first Kwanzaa your family celebrated? If so, can you share them?

My family's first Kwanzaa was at a community event hosted by Black folks who had learned about Kwanzaa through their knowledge of the US organization active on the west coast at the time. They talk about the first gathering being small -- 50 people or less in attendance -- but the spirit was rich and exciting. They were moved by the principles very deeply.

We do exchange gifts - usually books or heritage symbols -- something to remind you of the rich diversity and depth of the African diaspora. Click To Tweet

Kwanzaa Celebration

Photo Credit: Takiyah Nur Amin - Picture of the author's mother's Kwanzaa table from December, 2016.

How does your family celebrate Kwanzaa? How may have the celebrations evolved over the years, if they have?

We have a Kwanzaa table in our home every year. We gather, light the candles that correspond to the principles we've observed up to that day and every reflects on how they enacted that principle during the year. We all share a sip of non-alcoholic beverage from the Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup.) We do exchange gifts which are usually books or heritage symbols -- something to remind you of the rich diversity and depth of the African diaspora. Then, we usually attend the public local Kwanzaa celebration in our city -- Buffalo has one of the largest and longest running celebrations in the nation. Now that I live in Charlotte, NC, I observe with my table at home.

Since you have always been celebrating this festival, what do you think of its role and significance in our society today?

Celebrating the contributions of people of African descent globally is always relevant. While Kwanzaa takes place at the end of the year, I was raised to think about its principles 365 days of the year and to always be willing to lift up the ways in which Black people have helped to shape the world, given that our work is often misrecognized, ignored or maligned.

 

Do you have children and if you do, what lessons do you want your kids and really, all kids, to know and learn about and from Kwanzaa?

I don't have biological children but I think all children would benefit from learning about the rich history of the Diaspora and how valuable the principles are when applied to daily life.

All children would benefit from learning about the rich history of the African Diaspora and its valuable principles. Click To Tweet

What is the cultural significance of this festival in the lives of Africans and African Americans?

Kwanzaa has been around for 51 years. Its significance is manifold in that it has been a lasting and growing observance across the Diaspora through it being shared by African-American people. The observance (it's not really a festival per se) also signifies a time set aside specifically to celebrate the shared heritage and experiences of Black people no matter where they are.

While Kwanzaa takes place at the end of the year, I was raised to think about its principles 365 days of the year Click To Tweet

What do you want people to know about Kwanzaa that one cannot simply find in say, Wikipedia?

Kwanzaa is celebrated all over the globe through the efforts of African Americans who have brought it to other places through their travels.

Anything else that I may not have asked but you think is relevant to spread more awareness and education about Kwanzaa to those who are unfamiliar with it.

We welcome people of goodwill to our celebrations but the key thing is to remember that they are guests -- the observance is being shared with them but it belongs to us.

People always ask if non-Black folks can celebrate or observe Kwanzaa. I have always had non-Black friends over during Kwanzaa or taken them with me to a community based Kwanzaa event. We welcome people of goodwill to our celebrations but the key thing is to remember that they are guests -- the observance is being shared with them but it belongs to us. The question shouldn't be can you celebrate Kwanzaa but can and do you celebrate Blackness, African-ness? Because that is what we gather to uphold and affirm.

 

 

The question shouldn't be can you celebrate Kwanzaa but can and do you celebrate Blackness, African-ness? Click To Tweet

AminTakiyah Nur Amin is a dance scholar, educator and consultant. She has a Ph.D. from Temple University and focuses her research on 20th century American concert dance, African diaspora dance performance, and aesthetics and pedagogical issues in dance studies. She is currently completing a book length project that explores the work of Black women choreographers during the height of the US-based Black Power and Black Arts Movements. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. 

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