Kwanzaa Comes to Life in Detroit  

“Matunda Ya Kwanza.”   

Meaning “first fruits” in Swahili, the expression encompasses one of the many elements of the Kwanza holiday celebrated primarily by African Americans although everyone is welcome to partake in the festivities.  

Created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, the celebration of Kwanzaa was formed as a way to help Black people identify with their African heritage during the Christmas holiday.  

Taking place from December 26 to January 1, the holiday encompasses symbols that include a decorative mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed, corn (Muhindi) and other crops, a candle holder kinara with seven candles (Mishumaa Saba), a communal cup for pouring libation (Kikimbe cha Umoja), gifts (Zawadi), a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag. The celebratory colors were chosen for their symbolic nature: red for the struggle of Africans and their descendants, green for the land and the future, and black representing the people.  

Lisa Reynolds, principal, at the Detroit School of Arts, celebrates Kwanzaa and told the Michigan Chronicle during an interview at her African-inspired office that Kwanzaa is about family and tradition, and COVID-19 brought families and communities back together in an intimate way that Kwanzaa already champions.  

“It has made us go back to family — our small communities,” Reynolds said.  

During the holiday, each day is dedicated (for seven days) recognizing seven principles called the Nguzo Saba:  

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.  
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.  


  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.  


  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.  


  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.  


  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.  
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.  


To help residents observe Kwanzaa, organizations across the city are hosting virtual events filled with family fun and education.  

Reynolds celebrates the holiday with her family and community and cherishes the annual event where “everybody has something to do” and a role to play.  

“That is African centered — every person is intersected and important,” she said adding that for those who have a broken or fractured family, the holiday can reveal hurts and hardships when reflecting inwardly but there is an “opportunity to heal.”  

Reynolds said that activist educator Mama Imani Humphrey (who advocated for the Black community) was an influential Detroiter who was one of many who celebrated Kwanzaa first at its inception locally.  


“I would be in the second generation,” she said of local Kwanzaa celebrates.   

Detroit School of Arts teacher Talibah Smith told the Michigan Chronicle that her family has celebrated for nearly 30 years.  

“It started off as a small celebration and it grew into a more community-oriented celebration,” she said adding that other families began participating.   

Smith added that they don’t just stop there, but she and others put on educational shows to bring more members of the community along and youth to learn about Kwanzaa.  

“We celebrate the culture, the dance to enhance the knowledge and understanding for the students and children,” she said.  

Reynolds added that there is a misconception that Kwanzaa replaces Christmas but it doesn’t.  

“Christmas is a religious holiday; Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday,” she said adding that they don’t cancel each other out. “The biggest takeaway is the reflection and celebratory (nature).”  

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will present songs and dances, storytelling, poetry reading, and more at their Kwanzaa event held Sunday, December 26 to Saturday, January 1 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on 315 E. Warren Ave. In Detroit.   

To attend the Kwanzaa event at The Wright visit 


From the Web