Kwanzaa is somewhat of a mystery to the average person. Most know that it’s an African-American holiday that takes place at the end of the year, but that’s about it. Even the general Black population doesn’t know much about the celebration. Maybe its low nontertiary is a result of Kwanzaa’s proximity to Christmas. Maybe it’s a result of the holiday’s overt pro-Black message that doesn’t mix well with white America. Whatever the cause might be, Lawrielle West and her business Kwanzaa Me are aiming to remedy the problem by giving Black families the knowledge and equipment to celebrate their heritage this holiday season.

“Kwanzaa is only 57 years old.” West explained to us in an interview. “If we look at Juneteenth, it’s been around for well over a hundred years. That’s not only enough time for people to really learn and know about it, but also for it to be recognized by different states. While my end goal is not for Kwanzaa to be nationally recognized (because it’s really about the community) It’s just important to look at how long it takes a holiday to really become a thing.”

West is a native Detroiter from the westside with a background in community organization and a love for Black people. She’s also the engagement director for the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara which has partnered with the Alkebu-lan Village to spread the tradition of Kwanzaa throughout Detroit with their new 57 Families Initiative.

“Kwanzaa itself means first fruit of the harvest. Its seven principles are Umoja, which means unity. Kudachakaliya, which means self-determination. Ujima, which means collective work and responsibility. Ujamaa, which is co-op economics. Imani, which means faith. Nia which means purpose. And Kuumba, which means creativity.

Kwanzaa was formed in 1966 in California by African Americans. Here’s a little bit of the Black Girl Magic history behind it. This little girl named Baraka challenged the adults around her and said, ‘Why don’t we have a holiday for us?’ So Black activists, academics and community leaders created Kwanzaa as an African-American holiday to celebrate our community culture and values

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It’s interesting because a lot of times African Americans will think that it’s an African thing, but a lot of Africans don’t even know about it. Kwanzaa Me invites and embraces everyone to be able to learn about not only Kwanzaa but the importance of cultural education. Cultural competence and community building celebration. So we go into schools, churches, businesses, corporations, to be able to really have conversations, to educate, to build community and learn together.”

West and her Kwanzaa Me Kit

The 57 Family Initiative is the latest effort by West and her collaborators to grow Kwanzaa’s notoriety. The goal is to gift 57 Michigan families Kwanzaa Kits and educate them on the meaning and traditions of the 7-day celebration.

“People don’t understand what Kwanzaa is. They don’t know what a Kinara is. And they definitely didn’t know we have the largest in the world in Detroit. So, 57 Family Initiatives is our initiative to give 57 families, 57 free Kwanzaa kits for the 57th anniversary of Kwanzaa. The kits include a Kwanzaa Kinara that’s handmade by a Black woman based in Detroit. It’ll have a Kwanzaa guide that has the proper pronunciations, prompts for reflection questions, and other black holidays you can celebrate year-round. And also the Kwanzaa candles, because there are seven days of Kwanzaa and each day of Kwanzaa we light a candle in the Qunar to acknowledge one of the seven principles.”

Of course, one of the main biggest questions people have about the holiday is, “What about Christmas?”. One of the few things people do know about Kwanzaa is that it shares the same month as what can be considered the biggest holiday of the year. Meaning that the merry festivities of the former might directly conflict with the deep reflection of the latter. On top of that, many see Christmas as a religious holiday. Observing a “pagan” holiday could prove problematic to most people’s faith. Luckily though, all these concerns can be put to rest with a little more education. Because as it turns out Kwanzaa has very little to do with its holly jolly cousin.

“Christmas is December 25th, and then Kwanzaa is December 26th and the seven days thereafter. So you can definitely celebrate both. I know people that celebrate both. In Kwanzaa, there is no uplifting of any gods or anything like that. The only spiritual experience you get with Kwanzaa is the fulfillment you get from shared values and celebrating meaningful holidays with your family.”

So how can you celebrate with your family this year? As mentioned before, the 57 Families Initiative is looking to put the knowledge and equipment into Black people’s hands for free. To apply for a Kwanzaa kit you can email MotorCityKanarra@gmail.com and fill out the required information. Families are already being selected so the sooner you reach out, the better. West and her partners are also working to raise $8,000 by December 19th, and information on how to donate can be obtained via email as well. For

For West and those around her, the Kwanzaa kits and the 57 Family Initiative are about more than just popularizing a Black holiday. At the end of the day, community and togetherness is the core of what they do. And it’s something they hope to do for a long time.

“We’re donating meaningful items to families that can catapult their family into having a lot more vision and unity and to use it as they move into the new year. So if you are a business organization or an individual that’s thinking about donating to the campaign or wondering why you should, we really believe in the spirit of Kwanzaa. We want to provide Kwanzaa kits free of cost to their families because we believe in our community and the transformative impact that Kwanzaa could have.”

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