Monday, December 27, marks the second day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration in which each day, families and communities focus on a different principle at the root of African culture.

A candle will be lit on this second day to focus on kujichagulia, which is Kiswahili for self-determination. This day calls on people of African descent to not allow others to limit their potential and to proactively set and pursue lofty goals.

Joyelle Powell, a mom and educator, has the indomitable spirit of self-determination that can inspire the community. Powell and her then 7-year-old daughter Zaidie were living in difficult circumstances at the home of Powell’s parents. 

In May 2019, they moved into a homeless shelter in what became a 13-month journey through New York City’s homeless system. Mom and daughter moved into a unit that had no heat and a front door that wouldn’t lock.

“My daughter was scared, but I had to act like this was completely normal, like, ‘I’m not scared if someone comes in, go to sleep. Oh, it’s cold? I know. Don’t worry,’” Powell told BK Reader.

During their ordeal, Powell was either studying or working as an NYC public school teacher in Williamsburg, careful to keep her homelessness a secret from her colleagues.

Powell was determined, through the spirit of Kujichagulia to succeed and serve as an example to Zaidie of personal accountability. Today she is New York City public school teacher. She is out of the shelter and lives with her daughter in a beautiful apartment she now rents.

Her story is also a lesson for communities to methodically plot a course toward greatness. Here is a link to her full story that’s sure to inspire.


Beginning on Sunday, December 26, and for the next seven days of Kwanzaa, BK Reader will feature a different local resident or organization that exemplifies one of each of the seven principles! Go here to read about Umoja.

Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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