I remember moving to a new city and a new elementary school in the second grade. It was an unknown place and a little scary at first, but after a few weeks, I had new friends and I knew my way around the school and the playground. It was great, because I still had my old friendships from where we moved, and now new friends at my new home.
As a mother, I am mindful of how I felt as a little girl with lots of change, so I have made sure to incorporate many routines and rituals for checking in with one another into our family life now (I.e. family time, movie time, hug tax, etc.). It grounds my children and helps us feel connected, even as the world changes around us.
I think of these rituals as I prepare for Kwanzaa every year.
Kwanzaa reminds me of my mama (mom) and baba (dad). It reminds me of my grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as my ancestors before them. It reminds me to tell my children about the sacrifices they made, and to reach back to our ancestry and heritage in Mother Africa.
In 1966, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga to bring African-Americans together as a people and as a community. On the continent of Africa, Kwanza (the Swahili word meaning first fruits) is a festival held after the harvest of the crops in agricultural communities; a time of thanksgiving to God for being bountiful in the harvest. He added an extra “a” to make “Kwanzaa”, linking the new holiday with its ancient African past. It is a cultural celebration from December 26th to January 1st, but the principles are a guide to live by all year long.
Children are amazing. They are smart little sponges that absorb everything around them, whether good or bad. This is why it matters what images we show them, how they see others and why Kwanzaa is so important. This is why I decided to start Kinara Park Kids®, a company dedicated to cultural relevance and inclusion. We exist because positive images of young African-American and Black children have been under or not at all represented in mainstream stores.
I decided to create characters to teach children about the principles of Kwanzaa: The Kinara Park Kids. Each kid is named after one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa and kids embodies the principle that they are named after.
Their names are Swahili (aka Kiswahili) which is spoken by tens of millions as a native dialect or second language on the continent of Africa. It is not English, so it is different and unfamiliar to us—kind of like when I changed schools in the 2nd grade; but young people learn so quickly. In a short time, they will have learned the Kwanzaa principles without even knowing it.
My own sons are the reason Kinara Park Kids was created. Both of them have been involved in every part of the process. Now, I want to share the characters with you, to help you teach your children about the seven principles of Kwanzaa:
1. Umoja (unity)
We learn how to be in community, in harmony and in agreement with one another. For my children, this doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but we figure out what is most important and do it together.
To portray umoja, I created a character who wears gray and is always thinking about teamwork and how to bring his friends together for a common goal. He likes to play sports.
2. Kujichagulia (self-determination)
We learn to use our words and to not let anyone speak for us. For my children, this also means speaking up when something is important to them and making sure the adults in their world (parents, teachers, friends) know how they feel about events or things.
To portray kujichagulia, we use a character named “KG.” She wears all red, is strong-minded and knows what she wants to say.
3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
We may not understand each other, but we can listen and understand; we can have empathy with each other. For my children, we practice putting ourselves in each other’s shoes and looking out for one another. I always tell them that they may sometimes be upset with one another (big brother and little brother), but they should always be looking out for one another.
To represent ujima I created a twin—he is in aqua green and is always checking on his friends. If they are upset about something, he helps them find a solution.
4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
This is being aware of business, commerce and money. We all play different roles in the family business. They are mindful to spend their dollars in the community first, and whenever possible.
Ujamaa is represented as the second twin. He too is wearing green, but it is “money” green in color. He always thinks about how they can improve on what they are doing, and he is the best friend to have around when they start fundraising.
5. Nia (purpose)
I teach my children that this means pushing beyond limitations. I always tell them to make a demand on those of us who are older and to not settle if we tell them, “No.” They are to keep asking and keep pushing toward their own greatness!
Nia is wearing blue because she is the dreamer and the visionary. She uses her imagination, sets goals and achieves those goals.
6. Kuumba (creativity)
I remind my children about the importance of doing something creative and expressive. They have created graphic art, drawings, even music. These times are when we create some special memories.
Kuumba is shown as a character who wears orange—she is the artist of the group. See the doilies she made on her outfit? She leaves a place more beautiful than the way she found it.
7. Imani (faith)
For my children, this means trusting beyond themselves—trusting beyond what they can see with their eyes and believing in their parents, grandparents and leaders.
I chose to portray Imani wearing yellow because it is the color of the sun, and that reminds her of hope. Faith is the substance of things hoped for! In her little purse, she has just about anything a friend would need.
We are bombarding society with positive images of Black/African-American young people. Seven kids—all of them friends and they are in every shade. From their hairstyle to their clothing, everything is intentional. We want our young people to see positive images of themselves while learning how to live out the principles of Kwanzaa daily.