Bahai News - Shoppers, business community share in economic principles of Kwanzaa
Published Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
Shoppers, business community share in economic principles of
BY SARA NEUFELD
Daphney and Marcus Washington want to teach their 5-year-old son the
seven principles of Kwanzaa. So for starters, they're demonstrating
"ujamaa," or cooperative economics, by shopping at a small
Afrocentric store instead of large commercial outlets.
Shopping at African City Alive in Palo Alto on Tuesday, the San Jose couple
let their son, Tyler, pick out seven candles, two African flags and a
wooden unity cup in preparation for the evening's Kwanzaa celebration.
Based on African festivals, Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Maulana
Karenga, a professor at California State University-Long Beach. The
annual celebration, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, encourages people
to think about their African roots as well as their lives in America.
Kwanzaa is a cultural and spiritual holiday, not a religious one. Each day
celebrates one of seven principles, including unity, self-determination,
creativity and faith. Events are planned throughout the Bay Area. On Friday,
the San Francisco Baha'i Center will sponsor a gospel performance by Joyful
Noise, Mutama drummers, with dancing, singing and community spirit. The
event will run from 2 to 5 p.m. at 170 Valencia St.
The principle of cooperative economics -- celebrated on the fourth
day -- encourages Africans and African-Americans to build and maintain
businesses and profit from them together.
That means brisk business at stores such as African City Alive and
the African Outlet on Octavia Street in San Francisco.
"If you're trying to build a strong African-American community, you should
try to buy things from other African-American people," said Daphney
Washington, who has been given, by one of the store's owners, the African
name "Nomzamo," meaning one who has gone through many trials and
The Washingtons will use the candles, flags and cup they bought to set
their table in Kwanzaa style, alongside a straw place mat, fruit and
corn. Any gifts they exchange will be educational.
"What we try to do is get away from the materialistic thing that Kwanzaa
has become," Daphney Washington said. "I'm just hoping that Kwanzaa
doesn't become like Christmas. They're starting to sell Kwanzaa stuff in
stores like J.C. Penney."
On the official Kwanzaa Web site, founder Karenga warns that "no
serious celebrants of Kwanzaa can support a corporate control of the
economy of the Black community or the economics of Kwanzaa. Nor can they
in good conscience drive small-scale community artists, producers, and
vendors out of business by buying corporate products."
But African City Alive owners Keisha and A. Peter Evans -- known fondly
by loyal customers such as the Washingtons as "Momma Keisha" and "Father
Pete" -- say corporate competition has made stores like theirs hard to
come by. African City Alive, on St. Francis Drive in Palo Alto, features
African jewelry, clothes, hair braiding, fabric, and cultural and history
books. The walls are covered with maps, historical time lines, and posters
of icons including Harriet Tubman and Bob Marley.
As Kwanzaa has grown in popularity over several years, some have come to
view it as a multicultural holiday, since many people can relate to the
seven principles. That's a sore spot for people like A. Peter Evans,
who wants to preserve it as a strictly African holiday.
"The business people try to promote it as a multicultural event," he said.
"It is not. It is an African event."
©Copyright 2000, San Jose Mercury News
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