Day 3. Ujima, #CELEBRATE, Ch. 3

7 Days of Kwanzaa. 7 Excerpts from Chapter 3 of a forthcoming essay series, “#CELEBRATE: Meditations on a Black Festive Culture.”
Day 3. Ujima

/ We don’t borrow
from Africa,
we utilize
that which was ours
2 start with.
The culture
provides a basis
4 revolution
+ recovery. / -Maulana Karenga

(7 Days of Kwanzaa. 7 Excerpts from Chapter 3 of a forthcoming essay series, #CELEBRATE: Meditations on a Black Festive Culture)

Chapter 3. Reincarnation: “KWANZAA”
Day 3: Ujima

Maulana Karenga declined to join the NAACP, CORE and the Nation of Islam despite a personal invitation from Malcolm X himself. Instead he decided to join the nationalist-oriented, Afro-American Association. Here he developed and shaped his ideologies. He began learning under African liberation leaders, who based their beliefs on the premise that blacks needed to have the power to define themselves. For Kerenga, this concept finally moved beyond the scope of the Civil Rights protest strategies. Three years later, in the fall of 1965, a study group in a meeting in a Los Angeles bookstore called the Circle of Seven developed into the US organization. The name was proposed as a dual reference to the United States and to, “serve us Blacks as opposed to them Whites.”

The members, Karenga, his wife and five others were close followers of Malcolm X, rallying around a strong belief that his death deserved to be memorialized in a national celebration. In fact, this is the first sprouting of what would become the group’s holidaymaking tradition. The US Organization got into formation under the leadership of a Malcolm X associate, by the name of Hakim Jamal, who later left the organization and went on to found the Malcolm X Foundation. Shifting into a new leadership of Maulana Karenga, the group’s emphasis on creating a cultural tradition blossomed. Kwanzaa allowed the Black Nationalists to exercise ritual, fusing the lived and imagined disapproval experience together as one.

Historian Scot Brown in his 2003 work, Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism, explains that Karenga’s Seven Year Calendar “followed a pattern of long-range social and economic planning schemes, popularized by Third World nationalists and socialists during the late 1950s and 1960s.” With Kuzaliwa on May 19th, Malcolm X’s birthday and Dhabihu in February to represent Malcolm X’s martyrdom, the revolutionary alternatives inspired an entirely new calendar with a system of holidays and rituals for members and ultimately all Blacks.

Karenga understood that cultural revolutions preceded physical revolutions and were, therefore, crucial stages of the revolution because they created the necessary foundation of identity, purpose and direction. Then, after an existential crisis with Christmas and the over-commercialization of a white Jesus, Karenga challenged the motives of Black Christianity, in an address to Valley College in 1968. He commented, “Black people can’t be Christians because if we are going to be Christians then we must be Jesus-like and Jesus was a whitey. We are going to have to defend ourselves because we are not going to get defense from heaven.”

Kwanzaa was created to resist against white holiday representation. Plain and simple. In an article in 1977, Karenga clarified, “I created Kwanzaa in 1966 with US organization: a social change group of Blacks dedicated to the creation, re-creation, and circulation of Black culture. Kwanzaa is not a Black Christmas and not a time for expensive gift giving. It is an effort to escape this entrapment.” The agitation against Christmas is important for many Black Nationalists who often understand the religious holiday as “the handmaiden of a pathological Negro identity.” As a result, in its earlier forms and to outside observers, white and black alike, Kwanzaa as a ritual tradition appeared cultish and inauthentic.

But, for the members it was a cultural revolution.


All wax prints from post titles and Instagram are available for order from @HouseOfMamiWata African fabrics shop in Houston, TX.


Many blessings, fam &

Habari Gani until tomorrow,