Developing an appreciation of the meaning and message of Kwanzaa includes developing an understanding and appreciating its profound and pervasive concern with values. Kwanzaa’s existence, its length of observance being fixed at seven days, its core focus and its foundation are all rooted in values. Kwanzaa inherits a concern and focus on values that translate to multiple cultures from Kawaida, the African philosophical framework which inspired it. Kawaida philosophy is a communitarian African philosophy which combines the best of African thoughts and practices in constant exchange with the world.
One of the most enduring values of American society is self-determination. Our country was founded by people who believed in their right to self-determination – to decide how they would be governed, apply principles of freedom and free thought, and to remove themselves from the oppressive rule of the then-ruling monarchy.
The principle of Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-leah) means to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
How can the strength of our ancestors and significant people from history, combined with the principle of self-determination help us today as we plan for our transition into a new year? Well, we can learn from their examples:
- When faced with an intolerable situation, American’s first immigrants made plans, gathered support and removed themselves from that situation. For us today, that might mean making plans to leave a job that does not pay you a living wage, support your family, or give you an avenue for promotion and advancement. Now that doesn’t mean you walk in tomorrow and quit! You start by making plans – do you have the necessary skills and experience to move to a more responsible and better-paying position, and if not, how would you go about acquiring the skills and experience? Enlist the support of POSITIVE friends and family members – the emphasis is on positive, because there is far too much negativity in the world and who needs more of that? Share your future plans with those who will support and encourage you in your desire to change and better yourself. Set a timetable – 3 months, 6 months – determine how much time you need and then put positive action behind your plans and GET MOVING!
- Be prepared to go where no one from your “circle” has gone. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move to a new, undiscovered country (are there any of those left?), but it DOES mean that you may have to do something different that no one in your family or circle of friends has accomplished before. When I underwent lap-band surgery to save my life and start my progress toward a healthier me, no one in my family had ever undergone weight-loss surgery before. It was never discussed as an option – we all kept right on struggling with our weight and bad eating habits, not enough exercise, and the cycle kept on repeating. I had to research the procedure, make a decision and then take positive steps to make it happen. Be prepared to blaze your own trail – with sufficient research, information, support (maybe from outside your circle) and a healthy dose of self-determination, you too can succeed on your journey – and just maybe, you’ll inspire some others to follow YOUR example.
- Choose a new self-definition! You do not have to accept the labels that others would put on you to try and define you THEIR way. Often the world around us assigns labels to us so that we fit into their realm of understanding – this is not necessarily negative, but it does mean that if we take these labels to heart, we may miss on an opportunity to become, be or do something that would serve our hearts, our life and our purpose much more completely. Take time to examine how you define yourself – are the words you choose ones that were given TO you, or ones assigned BY you? If you are living up to (or struggling with) a self-definition that does not resonate with you, make you smile and give you a measure of peace, then it’s time to develop a NEW self-definition.