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First Principle of Kwanzaa: Umoja
Kwanzaa starts today and the first principle is Umoja. Umoja is the principle of unity in family, relationships, and heart. On this day we light the black candle which stands for unity. Throughout history, African American families have struggled to maintain their unity. Part of the problem is the history of slavery. Slaves were chattel property. They were no better than horses or cows. Like horses and cows, there were breeding slaves, both male and female. Many times a slave was not able to choose their mate. A mate was chosen for them. Many female slaves were raped by white masters. They bore children that were slaves even though they were half white. Many of these children of white slave owners were sold the minute they were born because of jealous wives.
Even if a slaves had their family together, there was no guarantee that they would remain together. A slave could be sold away from their family at anytime. Babies were sometimes sold from their mother's arms. Children were sold. A violent or destructive slave would be sold or see his family sold away from him as punishment. Some slaves who may have lived in states like Virginia or Tennessee would be sold further down south as punishment for bad behavior.
After slavery, many slaves looked for their families and never found them. However, because of census takers in 1870 they took names and began to be counted. However, their struggles in the south were just beginning. During Reconstruction, they would watch as violent patrols of whites destroyed families with violence such as lynchings, murders, burning houses, raping women and terrorizing blacks into forfeiting their rights as American citizens.
Over 400 years of degradation and humiliation leave a stain on African American families today. In the 1970s, many families were destroyed by a welfare system that required men to leave their families to get help from the government. Many African American women, some by every fault of their own, got trapped in a cycle of having more babies to get more money from welfare.
In the 1980s, families were devastated by the crack cocaine epidemic and gang violence that saw a large number of black men die through violence, die due to drugs, or end up incarcerated. Drug penalties were three-times as long for blacks and brown who possessed the cheaper crack than for those who had the more expensive powder cocaine.
The fact is that African Americans males are at the bottom of every socioeconomic category. They die earlier, get more diseases, are poorer, and are incarcerated more often than any other group. Unity is desperately needed in our communities. I realize that it seems as if I am exonerating blacks from their responsibility in these problems. On the contrary, I believe that African Americans are the ones who can solve the problems in our communities. However, we live in disjointed communities.
Kwanzaa and the principle of Umoja allow African Americans to unite and bond in our most important relationships, with our families, and with our community. Umoja teaches us that great changes happen when blacks unite for a common cause. The Civil rights movement is a good example. When Southern Blacks unified to stop white segregation and brutality in the south, they started the ball rolling for change in American society.
Unity begins in the heart. One has to be unified in purpose. One has to unified with those whom they love and one has to find unity in their community. Umoja allows African Americans to explore this theme of unity and to find unity of their own. Families should unify during this time. Fathers should find the time to come together with their children and those who have lost families should find the time to reconnect with them.
Our history has been one of disconnection but through principles teaching our children the principles of unity and family we can began to reconnect with those we love. Celebrate Umoja today.