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Why I celebrate Kwanzaa

Updated on December 24, 2009

Images of History

A shotgun shack
A shotgun shack
Jim Crow
Jim Crow

Understanding History

I was born in a shotgun shack. They called it that because the front and back doors were aligned to allow white patrols to see a black man running out of the back door if they came to the front. If they needed to they could actually fire from one door and hit someone going out the other. My mother was 21-years-old when I was born. She already had four children. One of my oldest brothers was mentally retarded.

I was born in East Texas during the sixties. I experienced Jim Crow. I went to the back of stores to buy shoes. I could not enter restaurants to order food and we had those infamous water fountains that said “Colored and White”. I remember walking with black men who stepped off the sidewalks so that white women could pass. Their eyes were pointed to the ground because looking at white people meant a visit from the patrollers or even death. I remember hearing my grandmother called 'gal' by the people she worked for and my black men around me being referred to as 'boy'.

Like most of the women in my life, my mother worked cleaning the homes of white people. My father worked in the saw mills and neglected us for the most part. My older siblings were charged with caring for me but because of their struggle to survive, I was often left alone. I was smart. I started talking at a young age but I never crawled. I scooted around on my backside. My mother thought something was wrong with me and feared that she would have to care for another handicapped child.

During this time, a family across the street took notice of me. The mother started sending for me and caring for me. My mother was appreciative and grateful for the help. I spent a couple of nights. I started walking. Later it became a few weeks and then forever. Eventually, my mother wanted me back but my new guardian wanted cash that my mother did not have.

What my family did not know was that the home that I moved into was filled with abuse of every kind. My new guardian, whom I could never call anything Mrs. _____________, was an alcoholic who drank every night. She became violent when she was drunk, but the worst thing was that it was killing her. She threw up every night. It was like broken record. Eventually, doctors had to remove half of her stomach to save her life. Her new husband was a pedophile who preyed on young girls and boys. He eventually died in prison and it was the testimony of my adopted sister that helped put him there. The older children preyed on the younger ones. My sister was molested by every male member of her own family.

On the outside, however, Mrs. ___________________ was considered a saint for taking in a child that was not hers. I was lucky. I did not feel lucky. I grew up frightened and disconnected from my history and heritage. When I became a teen, I spent years trying to find a safe haven where I could grow. In the meantime, addiction was beginning to take over our house. My adopted siblings used drugs to hide the pain of their abuse. When crack came along it devastated my siblings. One was killed in a crack house, two others were lost to the streets.

That's an ugly history, I know, but I have learned to embrace it as part of who I am. People often ask me why I celebrate Kwanzaa. I tell them it is because of connections. I tell this story just to illustrate how disconnected African American families can be. The purpose of Kwanzaa is to allow AA families to reconnect with their history, their heritage, and their future. It takes embracing all of our history before we can overcome the pain of it. Kwanzaa is a way for blacks to begin this process. The seven principles allow me to teach my daughter our history, how it affects our present, and how we should grow from it in the future.

The Principles are:

  • Umoja (oo-MOH-jah): Unity
-Success starts with Unity. Unity of family, community, nation and race.

  • Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah): Self-Determination-
To be responsible for ourselves. To create your own destiny.

  • Ujima (oo-JEE-mah): Collective work and responsibility
-To build and maintain your community together. To work together to help one another within your community.

  • Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH): Collective economics
-To build, maintain, and support our own stores, establishments, and businesses.

  • Nia (NEE-ah): Purpose
-To restore African American people to their traditional greatness. To be responsible to Those Who Came Before (our ancestors) and to Those Who Will Follow (our descendants).

  • Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity
-Using creativity and imagination to make your communities better than what you inherited.

  • Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith-Believing in our people, our families, our educators, our leaders, and the righteousness of the African American struggle. Believing in God.

In the end, life is about the struggles of our ancestors, the formulation of our families, an the preservation of our future. I like teaching my daughter about my past. I believe that as a people, we are afraid to confront the ghosts of the past. However, those ghosts come back to haunt us and if we are not careful, they can haunt our children. Kwanzaa allows African Americans to embrace their past, no matter how ugly; we can integrate it into our present to teach our children basic principles of life.

Starting on December 26th, I will be blogging Kwanzaa and hopefully allowing people to look at this celebration and embrace it as a part of our culture. Won't you join us.

Join us on Facebook at Kwanzaa with the Beans.


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    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      It is sad to read about how your life was growing up. Children should not have to suffer like that. It looks as if your life is better now. I certainly hope so.

      I had never heard about this holiday either.

      I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • William R. Wilson profile image

      William R. Wilson 8 years ago from Knoxville, TN

      Interesting info about Kwanzaa. I never knew much about the holiday except that it was a way to reconnect with African heritage.

      It's hard to read about your childhood but I am glad that you are documenting it. It must be much harder to write. I believe you are right: confronting the demons of the past can help deal with the future. I've experienced this in my own life.

      I hope you and your family have a fabulous holiday season.