Happy Kwanzaa! For those that don’t know the origins of this holiday, Dr. Maulana Karenga created this seven day celebration back in the 1960s, as an alternative to the commercialized (and financially stressful) Christmas holiday. Before I go on, it’s important to note that every year trolls on social media feel the need to point out the faults of Karenga as a person. This post is in no way my endorsement of the man, this post is about the ideals of this holiday. Further, please be sure to ignore anyone who scoffs at Kwanzaa as a “made up holiday” because most holidays are made up. Kwanzaa created an opportunity for black families to celebrate with, and in honor of, their communities. Kwanzaa gifts have always been hand-made by the giver. I’m sharing the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) of Kwanzaa, with my own perception of each.

December 26th, Day 1: Umoja (Unity)-With each year, this day means something different to me. In this moment, I’m honoring the unity of lasting friendships. I’ve heard people say that former lovers shouldn’t be friends. Some say, “If we weren’t friends before we became lovers, why would we be friends after our affair ends.” I say, “The love we experienced during our time together should have created a bond deeper than friendship. If it didn’t maybe it wasn’t love.” Please celebrate unity any way that you see fit. Embrace your lovers, friends, family, neighbors, et al. Remember that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

December 27th, Day 2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). This principle has always held special meaning for me. My first coach (my brother Johnny) taught me that motivation has to come from within. No one will ever care about your progress in this life as much as you should. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what his message meant to me. Take some time and find your inner motivation, drive, determination, and focus it in the direction that suits your goals. While motivation is important, discipline is always greater than motivation. Motivation helps you to write the plan, discipline keeps you on the path. Self-determination is not to suggest that you should forget about your community. I’m just suggesting that you honor your path before you help others, you know like positioning your oxygen mask first before helping the other people on the plane. Further your knowledge, strengthen your body, fortify your mind, and engage your spirit. #TreatYoSelf with determined strength in lieu of things and possessions.

The lyrics in this song could sum up this principle. “Life without knowledge is death in disguise.” – Talib Kweli

December 28th, Day 3: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)-Seize the opportunity to build/maintain your community. Gather up your family, friends, and neighbors to put your effort where your heart is. Have you ever said/thought, “I love this city/town/neighborhood?” If so, put in some collective work to show that you love it. When was the last time that you put on some gloves and picked up trash on your block? Have you ever referred to a place as a “bad neighborhood” despite it being a few blocks from your own? (Think Nob Hill’s proximity to the TenderLoin.) Make an effort to clean it up! No, don’t try to go all crime fighter and clean up the streets like a vigilante. Take some time and volunteer with organizations that already have systems in place. If all of this feels like too much to tackle in the remaining hours of the day, think bigger. Ujima can be embraced all year long.

December 29th, Day 4: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)-This principle should hold special meaning for any that have found themselves frustrated with big business and consumerism. Supporting your locally-owned/operated businesses within the community is an ideal way to celebrate this principle. I’ve noticed a lot of small businesses opening in the past year, especially here in Oakland. If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I loved [insert community-based, locally-owned place] but they closed down.” Ask yourself, how often were you at their counter? How often did you tell friends about that place? It’s time that all small businesses thrive with our cooperative help.

December 30th, Day 5: Nia (Purpose)-Celebrate by insuring that our collective vocation is working towards building up our community. As always, think bigger and think beyond the day. Throughout the weeks, months, and all of the coming year challenge yourself to be a part of a collective that works with purpose to build (or re-build) the global community. If you’ve ever sat at your job and asked yourself, “WTF am I doing here? Is there a purpose to my work?”, make a change. Find a drive more significant than salary, what’s your intrinsic motivation? Whether it be your hustle, your job, or your career. Work with nia. Work with purpose.

December 31st, Day 6: Kuumba (Creativity)-I’m grateful that most of my friends embrace this principle throughout the year without a reminder. Since this is the last day of the year, let your creativity shine in any form you see fit. Release your self-limiting thoughts (stop saying, “I’m not very creative/artistic” and just create in your own way). Get out of your own way as you show the world your creativity. Dance, sing, exercise, eat, make art, make poetry, make love, and most importantly, pay it all forward. Take this day of creativity and find a way to gift your creative efforts to someone you love or someone you’ve never met. It’s pronounced Koo-oom-bah, let it live and thrive within and around your life.

January 1st, Day 7: Imani (Faith)-I see a strong example of faith on this day, every year. January 1st is a day that people (in my scope of experience) tend to be the most optimistic. I recognize imani in every proclamation of “this is going to be my year”. My challenge to you is to keep holding on to that optimism, not just today, but as the year progresses. Think about your words and proclamations to end the old year. Whenever I hear “fuck this year” or “sooo ready for this year to be over” all I hear is nothing worth honoring happened to you in the past year. Please don’t focus on all of the undesirable from the old year while talking about how good the new year will be. Otherwise, you’ll end up making the same jeer/cheer speech every year. Break the cycle and have some faith that there is good shit all around. Focus on these magic moments IN the moment and it will be easier to look back on the beautiful highlights of the old year. I know that everyone experienced the old year in a different way. Tragedies, evictions, crimes, unemployment, and general fuckery will happen. The concept of “good” or “bad” are a matter of perception. When I reflect on this past year, I don’t see it as a good or a bad year. I think about all of the growth and lessons and my perception chooses to label this past year as a chapter in my life. I learned a lot, made mistakes, grew in some ways and stayed the same in others. The year was not good or bad, it was just a passing of time. I will not vilify a calendar. When I think about the coming year, I have optimism/faith/imani that I will continue to learn and grow. Lessons and growth through experience are worth a bit of imani. Happy Kwanzaa!

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