Ujima & Ujamaa and Muhammad Nassardeen

December 28 & 29

December 28th and 29th are the 3rd and 4th days of Kwanzaa. The themes of these days are Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) and Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics). On the surface these do not sound like the general feel-good (or feel-bad) sentiments that accompany most holidays. For the record, other days of the celebration include themes such as Unity, Purpose, and Faith–themes more consistent with older holidays. Ujima and Ujamaa may be overshadowed by these more traditional holiday themes, but all are equally important.

Umoja, or Unity, is the first step, asking the community to recognize itself as a united group.

Kujchagulia, Self-determination, asks the African-American community to define itself and its future on its own terms rather than through the eyes of others.

Ujima and Ujamaa are the nuts and bolts of the operation. They require not just talk but actual tangible steps to achieve.

One man who did just that was Muhammad Nassardeen. His organization Recycling Black Dollars was an effort to keep the money of the African-American community within the community. White neighborhoods recycle dollars 5 times. Latino communities recycle dollars 3 times. And Asian-American communities as much as nine times. But Nassardeen found that the African-American community recycled the average dollar less than 1 time.

By creating and encouraging businesses and organizations, including local churches, to bank and buy within the Los Angeles African-American community Nassardeen helped to increase the wealth of the community substantially.

Unfortunately Nassardeen died in October 2007 of a heart attack. But his contributions to Cooperative Economics are remembered this Kwanzaa in the city where Kwanzaa first greeted the world.

[originally published Dec. 29, 2007]


December 26 – January 1


God makes three requests of his children: Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have now.

— African-American Proverb

Originally intended as an Afrocentric alternative to Western holidays in the United States, Kwanzaa is now celebrated by people of African heritage in Europe and the Caribbean as well as by millions in Africa itself. The term Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase “ya kwanzaa” meaning “first fruits.” The name refers to the ageless African tradition of harvesting the first fruits of the season. According to afriqueonline.com, “Kwanzaa is a time of year for black people to come together to celebrate the fruits of our labor during the past year.”

Other names you might hear today:

Mishumaa saba: the seven candles.

Nia: purpose

And perhaps most important: Nguzo Saba.

Nguzo Saba means Seven Principles, or Seven Reasons. The week-long celebration of Kwanzaa emphasizes one of the seven principles each day.

  • Umoja – Unity – Dec. 26
  • Kujichagulia – Self-Determination – Dec. 27
  • Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility – Dec. 28
  • Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics – Dec. 29
  • Nia – Purpose – Dec. 30
  • Kuumba – Creativity – Dec. 31
  • Imani – Faith – Jan. 1

The Nguzo Saba are the “minimum set of values African Americans need to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and interest and build and sustain an Afrocentric family, community and culture.” — Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga

The Kinara (candleholder) symbolizes African ancestors; The Mishumaa Saba (7 candles) symbolize the 7 Principles


On the first day of Kwanzaa African-Americans celebrate Umoja, or “unity”. It is the foundation of the seven Nguzo. Politicians often call upon “unity” as a slogan in the national arena, yet the concept of unity is overlooked within our communities and within the family.

Unity of the family is the building block of Umoja. It means unity of father and mother as role models for their children, and respect for one’s elders. Karenga notes that in many Western societies the elderly have been cast aside “leaving them with only failing memories.” African communities utilize the experience of their elders as judges and conflict resolvers. Their participation benefits both the society as a whole and the elders themselves.

A central purpose of Kwanzaa is to teach the younger generation about traditions that were passed down by Africans for countless generations, but were violently torn away during the slave trade and slavery. Marcus Garvey wrote:

A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

Umoja extends from family to community, from community to nation, and from nation to race. Applying the concept of umoja to the entire race is a difficult challenge. The African continent is home to over 50 nations. Each of these nations has not only its own ethnic identity, but several, often competing identities. And attempting to apply umoja to the entire continent and to all those descended from it is nothing less miraculous than uniting the entire planet.

But the principle of umoja is a practice as well as a principle. And the practice of umoja begins at home, one family at a time.

Tomorrow we celebrate the principle and the practice of Kujichagulia: Self-Determination…

Up you mighty race: accomplish what you will.

— Marcus Garvey

The first Kwanzaa stamp, 1997