Diversity Matters: Kwanzaa

December 18, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Next Wednesday, many members of the Michigan Medicine community will begin celebrating Kwanzaa, a weeklong festival designed to honor African culture and traditions.

“Kwanzaa acknowledges the struggles that African Americans have faced in the U.S. when it comes to gaining freedom and equality,” said Clarissa Love, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant within the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI). Love celebrates Kwanzaa with her family each December.

“It reminds all of us about where we came from and provides us guidance on where we can go as a community.”

To better support the patients, families and colleagues who observe Kwanzaa, here’s what you may not know about the holiday.

Guiding principles

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday and has no religious connotation. Founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, Ph.D., a professor of black studies, it was based on the year-end harvest festivals that are prevalent in Africa.

Each year, it is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

“Every day of Kwanzaa honors a different guiding principle,” Love said. “For instance, one day we’ll celebrate unity, while another we’ll recognize creativity. All seven of the principles are believed to have been key to building strong, productive communities in Africa.”

The full list of principles include:

  • Umoja (unity)
  • Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  • Nia (a sense of purpose)
  • Kuumba (creativity)
  • Imani (faith)

How it’s celebrated

One of the most well-known symbols of Kwanzaa is the kinara, which is a candleholder that houses seven candles. Each one represents a different principle and each night, a new candle is lit. (Please be advised that candles are not allowed to be lit in patient rooms).

“The candles comprise the traditional colors of Kwanzaa: three are green, three are red and the central candle is black,” said Love.

The colors were chosen as they were important symbols in Africa. Green represents fertile land, red symbolizes the blood that was shed during struggles for freedom and black is a nod to the continent’s people.

On Dec. 31, families and friends come together for a large feast, filled with traditional African dishes, along with sweet potatoes, collard greens, spicy foods and more — food items important to generations of African Americans.

“This is a great time to gather as a single community and celebrate our shared culture and heritage,” Love said.

If a patient requests a certain food item during Kwanzaa, check with his or her registered dietitian nutritionist to find out what can be provided at Michigan Medicine.

Finally, on the last day of the festival, gifts that celebrate African culture are traditionally exchanged, especially among children.

In the end, Kwanzaa is a festive and happy occasion filled with hope for what’s to come.

“By looking back at our principles and celebrating our culture, we know that we can build an even brighter future in the black community,” Love said. “That’s what Kwanzaa is all about.”