The 21st Show

The history and traditions of Kwanzaa


Reginald Hardwick/Illinois Newsroom

December 26, 2020 will be the first night of the African-American cultural holiday known as Kwanzaa. The holiday originated in 1966, started by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a Black activist and scholar who created Kwanzaa to promote and celebrate the seven traditions (one for each of the 7 days of Kwanzaa) of African heritage.

To discuss its history and traditions, and to also share a short storytelling performance, The 21st is joined by a professional storyteller, arts educator and author of several children's books including The Story of Kwanzaa and Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa.

This segment originally aired December 16, 2020.


Donna Washington 

Storyteller, spoken word artist, and author of The Story of Kwanzaa and Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa 

Seven Principles of Kwanzaa:

  • Unity: Umoja (oo–MO–jah): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

  • Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

  • Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

  • Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

  • Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

  • Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

  • Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


Prepared for web by Zainab Qureshi and Owen Henderson. 

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