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Atlanta community discusses importance of Kwanzaa

The holiday spans seven days beginning Dec. 26.

ATLANTA — As people wave goodbye to Christmas, others are preparing to usher in Kwanzaa.

For Etta Hawkins, the holiday is an essential part of the season.

"Kwanzaa changed my life," she said.

Hawkins explained she began celebrating Kwanzaa 30 years ago. Since then, she says, she's been eager to share the holidays with others. 

"I saw it as a pathway to navigate Black womanhood, family, community, sisterhood," she said.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karanga as a way to encourage African Americans to celebrate their heritage. The word Kwanzaa means "first fruits" in Swahili. The holiday is meant to align with the fall harvest festivals that were common across the continent of Africa.

Each day is meant to emphasize one of the seven principles -- the Nguzo Saba.

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create 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 in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order 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.

The symbols of Kwanzaa include the Kinara, which holds the seven candles. The candles are typically red, green and black. The colors are on the Pan-African flag and each one has a different meaning. Red symbolized the blood of the ancestors, green represents prosperity, black is for all Black people. 

Hawkins said the best thing about Kwanzaa is the way people are able to interpret the seven principles for themselves. 

Hawkins also wants more people to embody the seven principles year-round instead of only focusing on the last seven days of the year. 

Kenneth Zakee, the former chairman of the Atlanta Regional Kwanzaa Association says he previously planned events as a way to educate people about Kwanzaa. 

"So people know where to go to spend their time," he said.

Over the last few years, Zakee says he's noticed an increase in the level of excitement about the Kwanzaa holiday.

"The symbols and the principals, they have a way of keeping us sober as we close out another year and open up the new year," he said.

Moving forward, he wants to see that excitement continue for future generations. 

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