Empowering Stories for Kwanzaa

Deimosa Webber-Bey  //  Dec 23, 2020

Empowering Stories for Kwanzaa

Each December during Kwanzaa, the final seven days of the year offer a time for purposeful reflection on the African American experience. This year in particular, Kwanzaa celebrations will feature activities many of us have been doing a lot of in 2020 – such as cooking, baking, storytelling, music, dance, poetry, arts and crafts. These doings have been soothing for many of the same reasons that they are part of Kwanzaa; learning, sharing stories, and passing cultural knowledge from one generation to the next is empowering.

In order to observe Kwanzaa, African American families and communities usually gather for meals, activities, presentations, plays, stories and games that reinforce the meaning of one of seven organizational principles, called the Nguzo Saba. This is formalized by lighting one of seven red, black and green candles in a kinara each day as the weeklong celebration progresses – one candle for each of the Nguzo Saba: umoja, kujichagulia, ujima, ujamaa, nia, and kuumba. These holiday customs, the traditional table setting, and the names chosen for each aspect of the holiday were developed in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, chair of Africana Studies at California State University Long Beach.

This year, creating homemade decorations and preparing the special table setting, including the kinara, are projects that can showcase skills kids picked up or finessed while we spent more time at home. Books like Patricia and Frederick McKissack’s Messy Bessey's Holidays can give families an idea for how to safely celebrate with loved ones at a distance; after reading the story together, use the sugar recipe located in the back to bake together in a virtual celebration. And in order to introduce each of the seven principles this year, navigating tough conversations about both historical and current events, consider utilizing and sharing the following books from your home library:

Umoja (Unity)

  • King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, winner of the National Book Award, is a chapter book about a boy grieving the loss of his older brother who finds some peace as he commits to helping a friend.
  • Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson and A.G. Ford is a picture book about a family trip to Tanzania where they reconnect with relatives and learn about ancestors that were captured and taken to America.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

  • Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright is a graphic novel about growing up set in middle school and featuring two once indistinguishable sisters who learn to blossom independently.
  • Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias, leader of the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, is a nonfiction guide for kids with tips on how to advocate for social justice and use social media for good.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

  • The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley is an Agatha Award nominated historical mystery where three neighborhood kids, initially strangers, work together to preserve their Harlem community and the work of a local artist.
  • Tyrell and Bronxwood by Coe Booth are YA companion novels set in the South Bronx about a teenager shouldering the responsibilities of an adult, as he looks out for his mom, his little brother and his friends the best that he can.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

  • Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Tonya Bolden is a nonfiction narrative of the fifty years spent rebuilding America after the conclusion of the Civil War, and the rise of Jim Crow laws in stark response.
  • Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 by Sharon Robinson describes a pivotal year of American history; the daughter of Jackie Robinson shares how she discovered her voice and the role she could play as a kid in the civil rights movement.

Nia (Purpose)

  • All Because You Matter by Tami Charles and Bryan Collier is a picture book that emphasizes love, confidence, hope, and identity, assuring kids of their worth in the world and that they matter.
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers is an award-winning novel of courage and survival set in Vietnam, where a teenage soldier from Harlem questions both why he is fighting and the treatment of Black soldiers in the military.

Kuumba (Creativity)

  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is a young adult novel where through ingenuity the heroine pushes out of her comfort zone, experiencing both romance and the world of pageantry as she tries to earn much-needed financial support for college.
  • The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson is a dystopian story for teens set in future Brazil where vivid targeted art displays are a form of public protest employed by the main character.

Imani (Faith)

If you are looking for more books to share with family and friends during Kwanzaa, check out this #AmplifyBlackVoices list.

Happy Holidays!