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Stay Woke: 5 Things Every Black Person Need to Know About Kwanzaa

A New York-based comedienne is hoping to make Kwanzaa cool again.  Kerry Coddett tells Atlanta Black Star that Black folks have become woke in recent years. And the same newness should be afforded to the annual celebration of family, community and culture.

“Everybody is trying to be socially aware and conscience,” she said. “And part of that means you re-examine things you’ve once dismissed, thought you knew or understood. Kwanza is one of those things we need to revisit, we need to re-think about.”

In order to do that, Coddett’s second annual Kwanzaa Crawl kicks off Tuesday, Dec. 26 — the first day of Kwanzaa. Thousands of Black people will come together to support 25 Black-owned businesses in Brooklyn and Harlem. In addition to supporting the Black economy (as participants don wardrobe that makes them feel unapologetically Black), Coddett has launched the companion series, “Kwanzaa Actually,” with fellow comedian Rob Haze.

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The shorts — with topics ranging from what the celebration is all about to the need for a mascot — aim to debunk myths about Kwanzaa and inspire Black people to see it as a way to uplift and empower the community.

“The same way we now think about doing our hair, about the messages in our music, we have a conscience about the food we eat, we need to have a conscience about where we spend our money, and the messages we send and share with our children,” Coddett said of why Black people should value Kwanzaa. “Other cultures do not need to be told to support each other.”

“If Black people want to be in political power in this country, political power and economic power are intrinsically bound,” she added.

So for the uninitiated Kwanzaa celebrators, below are 5 things you should know about the holiday.

  1. It was founded by a Black nationalist. Dr. Maulana Karenga founded the celebration in 1966 as a pan-African holiday. Karenga was a huge part of the Black Power movement and co-founded the Black nationalist organization, “Us,” with Hakim Jamal.
  2. It’s centered around seven principles. Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination; Ujamaa, or supporting each other; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Nila, or purpose; Kuumba, or creativity; and Imani, or faith.
  3. It’s not a religious holiday. Kwanzaa allows people to celebrate any holiday tied to their religion and still practice the celebration of African heritage. Still, there’s also the freedom to acknowledge the seven principles and have no religion at all.
  4. It’s a weeklong celebration. Kwanzaa kicks off on the day after Christmas on Dec. 26 and lasts through New Year’s Day on Jan. 1. Each day, a black, red or green a candle is lit, coinciding with the people (black), their struggle (red), and the future and hope stemming from the struggle (green). The colors also coincide with Kwanzaa’s principles.
  5. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word. The name means, the “first fruits of the harvest.” The roots of the celebration consist of what Karenga called, “the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world,” per the Kawaida, or tradition, initiative.

The one-day Kwanzaa Crawl begins today in Harlem and Brooklyn, N.Y. and lasts from noon to 11 p.m.

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