The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Umoja | Unity

by Jelisa Harvey

Habari Gani! The first principle of Kwanzaa, Umoja, celebrates togetherness. Umoja represents family, friends and community. During Kwanzaa, unity is first demonstrated by the families and community coming together to ignite the black candle that symbolizes togetherness.  Umoja is a union of two or more people to create or work together. Unity was shown strongly during the Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter and, yes, even Beyoncé’s call for all Black women to get in “Formation.” Umoja shows harmony throughout conversation, action, connections and relationships.

The representation of Umoja is shown in various ways at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, too, through our daily interactions as a team: conversations, ideas, open dialogue and (at least) weekly gathering for social eating (which I really enjoy).  A common African saying, “I am because we are,” paints a picture of unity as the development of the self within the community to work together to achieve great things. I realize I need the assistance from my team members to enhance my professional development. The Lighthouse office space and team create power within ourselves that allows us to fulfill our mission to Black girls and women.


Kujichagulia | Self-Determination

by Joecephus Martin

Steve Biko’s quote, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,” has resonated with me deeply for a long time. I realized the key to most things would be defining me, especially in a place where everything exists to tell me I am not what I think I am. Some philosopher I was told to respect said, “I think therefore I am.”  He’s since become an afterthought. His message though, I took that to heart. Self Determination is the key.

Self-determination is defining your wins and losses, successes and failures, opportunities and threats all for yourself. Too often people believe what they have been told they can and should do to remain compliant. Kujichaguila means identifying what you think is best and acting in that. It’s walking in the power you have.  

Kujichaguila is making all your choices. It is all your decision to make. Deciding on all aspects of your life—large and small choices alike are yours. You define yourself for yourself. My colleagues talk about the pressures of being women. I try to listen and understand. I just don’t understand sometimes.  

We stood in a circle after a meeting having a tense conversation. We all agreed on the what. The how though? Yikes. I was told there was enough work for all of us to do. My work was understanding how people might not understand their power. Their work was accepting the power they had to impact change they wanted to see. This year, vow to walk in the power you have. You owe us all your greatness.


Ujima | Collective Work and Responsibility

by Melishia Brooks

Ujima is day three of Kwanzaa, and the principle means collective work and responsibility. In theory and practice, I work to stay true to this principle by remembering that I am a part of a community of Black girls and women. I remain conscious of our shared realities and responsibility to one another.  Too often we find ourselves so entrenched in our own lives that we put aside the issues and burdens of our fellow sisters. When we do this, we become bystanders to not only their struggles but their accomplishments as well.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather be part of the whole, and share in both. Ujima is our reminder that we are never alone in this journey for human rights. And so, in practice, I enjoy sharing the joys of The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects team and participants when one of our college ambassadors organizes Black women on her PWI campus to address issues specific to Black girls and women on campus. Collective work allows us to identify and address these issues with a better chance of lasting impact. At the same time, I also share the responsibility of this organization to be a partner in a network of people for Black woman on a different campus who lost her job. We are all responsible in seeing to it that she finds a new job where she feels safe and secure. I am not separate from either of them, neither am I from you.


Ujamaa | Cooperative Economics

by Natalie A. Collier

In the economic symphony conducted by American capitalists, Ujamaa is about as dissonant to this country’s dog-eat-dog financial ideology as the milly rock to Tchaikovky’s “1812 Overture.” It just doesn’t work. But it probably could. Here’s the thing for those of you who have concerns: Cooperative economics doesn’t call for the abandoning of your personal pursuits, dreams and goals, even financial ones. It does, however, admonish us to bear the greater good of ourselves for not only ourselves but others. What am I saying? Getting money ain’t the problem, getting it with a Biggie Smalls and Lil’ Kim mentality that makes things a little murky. The song slaps, but it also gives no consideration for those beyond self. The principle of ujamaa suggests that getting just for the sake of getting is a waste. Financial resources are a tool, and there are plenty of other tools. Therefore, it is wise that we think of this not only in terms of financial economics but resources generally. The resources—gifts, talents, skills, time, influence—we have and are able to marshal are not just for ourselves but the greater community and world. You and me at our best facilitates you and me at our best; it’s reciprocal and it doesn’t depend solely on the dollar bill, no matter what the patriarchal capitalistic society insists. There is, indeed, enough sunlight for everyone.


Nia | Purpose

by Maya Miller

I recall my first existential crisis, sitting in my English class, 15 years old, staring at a slip of paper that had been through the photocopier one too many times. In faded gray ink were the words: “NAME. CAREER. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?”

I had written “neonatologist” across the smudged line and then scratched it out. Suddenly faced with the prospect of at least 10 more years of school felt like the 6th circle of a baby-poop-filled inferno. Luckily, since then, I’ve managed my crises a little better. And through the last six months at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, I’ve refined what it means to me to find and have purpose.

Purpose is finding that sweet spot where your strengths and interests intersect and rest in their power. I’m a decent writer. I love science. I love children. I enjoy a good film project every now and then. Gratefully, I’ve been awarded the Ladner Fellowship at The Lighthouse, which allows me the space to do all these things, even if I do them imperfectly or need a little help. So often, we want to strive for so many things at once, losing sight of our original intent. I suffer from a severe case of “want to do it all,” but by taking the time to figure out exactly what I want to do in my 50-some odd years left here on Earth, I’ve learned how to be still. So, look at your community. Look at your friends. Review your goals before they turn into half-forgotten resolutions. Be realistic about your 24 hours, and you’ll find enough purpose to last a lifetime.


Kuumba | Creativity

by Reagan Harvey

The Kwanzaa principle of Kuumba means creativity and is celebrated on the sixth day. Kuumba teaches us to commit ourselves to make contributions to the world that leaves it safer, more beautiful and more compassionate than we inherited. This principle insists we nurture our gifts and honor the teachings of our ancestors, to cherish and seek freedom, truth and faithfully pursue peace. It urges us to engage in personal and social practices that are intentional and beg constant self-reflection, thereby positively affecting change in our communities.  It also challenges us to take up the task of daring to sacrifice, and maybe even struggle for the greater good.

I am just becoming familiar with the principles of Kwanzaa, and Kuumba struck me as the most profound because it speaks to the importance of transformation of self. One of our seven core principles at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects is creativity and innovation. Because the communities of girls and women we work with depend on our ability to push boundaries and evolve, and because, if I’m honest, 2018 has been only a slightly less blazing dumpster fire than 2017, it is refreshing to be reminded of the promises I’ve made to myself and those I care for. Cheers to evolution!


Imani | Faith

by The Lighthouse Staff

I have faith in the power that Black girls and women possess. May their power continue to create spaces that are safe, secure and conducive to growth and prosperity. -MB

I have faith in the power of a well-written sentence. I hope that all young Black girls and women will use their creativity, their joy and talent to tell their stories and make art that illuminates even the dimmest of corridors. -MM

Faith, in my view, is the steadfast belief in an undefinable, unconfined force larger than my conception that in all things ensures my best interests, and those of humanity, are served. In 2019 I seek to become more steadfast in my daily walk of faith, to not get sidetracked by circumstances that appear to run counter to goodwill in all things. – BB

I believe in the generations of Black men to come. I have faith they will use their blood and sweat equity to advocate for the betterment of the lives and material conditions of all Black people. -JM

I believe in the beauty—internal and external—and ingenuity of Black women and girls. I know with space and time, we have the capacity to be the change we need in our lives and communities. We are the ones, as June Jordan told us, we have been waiting for. -NAC

I have faith that the tenacity of our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends will be repaid in kind with softness and love because we deserve it. – RH

I have faith in 2019 that black girls will flourish holistically and embrace the best parts of themselves. I have faith that I can receive the love people present to me and find the love for myself. I have faith that in 2019 that I will have more faith in God and myself. – JH


About the author

We are The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects Team. Editorial pieces that are attributed to us are a team effort.

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