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December 2020 has finally arrived. This has been a long, challenging and historic year.

Personally, I’ve experienced some incredible highs and corresponding lows. Traditionally, for me December is a time when I begin reflecting on the past year in addition to making plans for the coming year. I also start my end-of-the-year preparations for both Christmas and Kwanzaa. I have celebrated Kwanzaa for many years. For the last three years, I have participated in the Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee’s Umoja Celebration. Umoja night has been held at the Center for Black Literature and Culture, downtown at the Central Library, for the last few years. The Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee began around 1979 with several families, the MwaAfrka family, the Kudo family and the Jywanza family.

Last week I spoke with one of the original members of the Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee, Queen Mother Mashariki Jywanza. Mama Jywanza shared with me that the first informal community celebration here in Indianapolis occurred in 1972. At the time she was a student at IUPUI and was also involved with the Black Student Movement. One of her friends Mama Ndanu Koudou had celebrated Kwanzaa prior to 1972 as well as the legendary author Ms. Mari Evans. She and a few others heard about Kwanzaa and thought that it was needed. Mama Jywanza visited California and encountered the US Organization that was headed by Maulana Karenga at the time. She said, “We had Kwanzaa for seven days. We used IUPUI’s Cavanaugh Hall (which was fairly new at the time). We tried to involve other students. There were probably 30-40 people each night. I made a commitment to continue to practice Kwanzaa.” I asked why Kwanzaa resonated with her so strongly. She said, “It represented culture and identity. I liked what it represented.”

My current celebration of Kwanzaa focuses more on the community aspect, at least the first night, Umoja (Unity). Some years I go all out and light the candles of the Kinara each day. Other years I just reflect quietly on each day’s principle. Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle. All of the principles encompass the Nguzo Saba, which means the Seven Principles in Swahili. The Nguzo Saba is something I strive for each day, not just in December. Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, faith. Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Kwanzaa is an amazing opportunity for the community at large to come together for a joyous event. If we could extend the focus of the Seven Principles beyond the seven days to year-round, it could have an incredibly powerful impact on our community. This year will be different so that we can enjoy the celebration yet remain safe. Each night will be broadcast on the Indianapolis Kwanzaa Committee’s Facebook page. As we move into 2021 we need more cooperation and faith as well as focus on our purpose and how that impacts all of us.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year!

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

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