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Hayes: December is a time for family, friends

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Greetings! It’s hard to believe that we have come to the end of 2021! So many challenges and triumphs. COVID-19 is still a real concern, but we do have a vaccine (age 5 to adult), social distancing and hand sanitizer and hand washing to combat its spread. December 2021 is much different than December 2020.

Last year there was a great deal of uncertainty with the economy and world health. Our U.S. economy is improving. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is 4.2% compared to last year at this time when it was 6.7%. We still have a great deal of work to do but our future looks hopeful.

December is a time for many to gather with family and friends. Many people in our community celebrate any number of the traditional December holidays, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve. Some people don’t celebrate any of those holidays but gather nonetheless to reconnect and honor longstanding or new traditions. However you choose to spend your time, remember that time and people are precious. There’s a saying by the cartoonist Bil Keane: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, hence we call it the present.” Treat the present as the gift that it is. Reach out to people you care about and let them know how important they are.

Like many, I’ve started to reflect on what I’ve experienced during the past year. My hope is to learn from my mistakes and build on my successes. I hope to set a positive intention for the coming year that will be a benefit to me and the community. I will soon start my preparations for Christmas and Kwanzaa. I started celebrating Kwanzaa many years ago with my family. I began the tradition in the hope that it would instill pride in our African American culture for my then-young children.

Kwanzaa (first fruits of the harvest) has seven core principles, or the nguzo saba. The (mishumaa saba) seven candles of the kinara (candle holder) represents each one of the principles. The candles are black (one candle), red (three candles) and green (three candles), which are also found in the Pan-African flag. Black stands for the people of the African diaspora, red for blood that binds us together and green for the continent of Africa. The black candle stands for unity and should be lit first.

The nguzo saba is something we can all reflect on throughout the year, not just in December. Umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). Each person can determine for themselves how they honor or celebrate each principle.

The Kinara sits on a mkeka (mat) along with ears of muhindi (corn), representing children in the family. Even if there are no children, a few ears of corn are placed on the mat. Mazao (fruits and vegetables) are also placed on the mat along with the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) and zawadi (gifts). The gifts should be educational or handmade if possible and are for the children of the family or community.

During Kwanzaa we greet each other with “habari gani” (what’s the news)? We answer by giving the principle for that particular day.

The Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee will hold a virtual observance again this year. The Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee began around 1979 with several families: the MwaAfrka family, the Kudo family and the Jywanza family. The late Mari Evans, poet, pianist and community activist, celebrated Kwanzaa. The committee is honored to use her kinara, which will be on display in the Center for Black Literature & Culture close to Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is an amazing opportunity for the community at-large to come together for a joyous event. Each day we will celebrate virtually on the committee’s Facebook page. Please visit and join in the celebration. We have many challenges ahead and I will discuss those more in future columns. At this time, I want to focus on hope and cooperation. There’s an old African proverb: “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.”

Nichelle M. Hayes is a native of Indianapolis. She is an information professional, a genealogist, civic leader and a lifelong learner.

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