Thursday, December 26, marks the first Day of Kwanzaa, a Kiswahili word representing the festival of “first fruits.”

The Kwanzaa celebration is an important part of the African-American community’s end-of-year holiday celebrations, and its first principle – “Umoja,” which means unity.

“The principle of Umoja (unity) speaks to our need to develop and sustain a sense of oneness, righteous and rightful togetherness in the small and large circles and significant relations of our lives, from family and friendship to community and the cosmos. It urges us to practice a principled and peaceful togetherness rooted in mutual respect; justice; care and concern; security of person; and equitably shared goods. And it calls on us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, suffering and struggling peoples of the world in the cooperative achievement of these goods.”

During Kwanzaa, participants greet one another with “Habari gani” which is Kiswahili for “how are you/ how’s the news with you?” The response is “Umoja, habari gani.”

Umoja stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African proverb, “I AM because WE ARE.” Those powerful words inspire us every day. We believe that everyone in our community is responsible for one another and that by working together we will achieve great things.

The candle we light for Umoja represents the symbol of unity: all of us taking responsibility for our families and neighbors.

How can we show unity? Sometimes it’s marching arm in arm and fighting for social and economic justice. Sometimes, unity is a helping hand to someone in need. It doesn’t have to be formal or expensive or time consuming: It can even been an acknowledgement or encouraging word or a “like” on social media.

Take a look at this story on BK Reader about a community mural project, a great example of Umoja.

Today, let’s all practice unity!

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