While at my dad's house last week after Christmas, I was taken to a Kwanzaa celebration in Brooklyn, New York.
During the presentation, my brother, Rahman, and I were introduced to Nguzo Saba or the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a week long celebration of African American family, community, and culture originally created by Black Studies professor Maulana Karenga in 1966 (Karenga, 2002).
At one point during the presentation, there was a call and response encounter between the host and the audience. The host said, 'Habari gani' which means 'What's the news?', the audience then responded by saying, 'Umoja', which means unity.
As I sit back and reflect on the seven principles of Kwanzaa (Umoja or unity, Kujichaglia or self-determination, Ujima or collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa or cooperative economics, Nia or purpose, Kuumba or creativity, Imani or faith), I find that these principles can help individuals living in communities like Trenton.
As the city of Trenton wrestles with its recent spate of crime, failing public schools, and growing distrust of elected officials, the seven principles of Kwanzaa cry out for attention and immediate application. I want to be the first to say that I commit to collective work and responsibility.
Now you might ask, how does one apply the principle of collective work and responsibility in one's everyday life. I'm glad you asked. My suggestion is that instead of looking at the condition of your community as someone else's problem, try looking at it as part of your responsibility. The best way to do this in my humble opinion is to ask yourself, 'am I part of the problem or part of the solution?' The best way to deal with this question is to be honest with yourself.
For instance, if you litter, but then complain that there are too many soiled diapers on the street, you might want to adjust your attitude and be less self-righteous. Here is where you can say how you can become a part of the solution by first cleaning up after yourself and then secondly, maybe starting up a neighborhood clean-up party that you conduct every week or every other week. Or perhaps, instead of moaning about the lack of programs in your community that offer youngsters mentoring and constructive things to do, maybe you can mentor one person or just maybe appeal to your neighbors to see if they are interested in helping out and giving the community's youth something positive to do in their spare time.
These are just suggestions, but are designed to show each and every one of us (including myself) how living out some of the principles of Kwanzaa can enhance not only our individual lives, but also the lives of others in our communities.
So, I end where I started, let's plan to make the year 2012 a year filled with collective work and responsibility (along with other principles of Kwanzaa) where we actually take the first step to improve our communities as opposed to waiting on someone else to rescue us thinking that the conditions of our communities are someone else's burden or responsibility, when in reality it is not.
For more information on Kwanzaa, please refer to Maulana Karenga's book, Introduction to Black Studies from the University of Sankore Press or visit the website by clicking here.
Please see a video below discussing the history of Kwanzaa: