Umoja (Unity) 

by Taeli Turner 

Kwanzaa, known as Umoja (Unity) in Swahili, was established by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Pan-African studies and a Black nationalist, in 1966. The principle of Umoja, which means unity, serves as the foundation of Kwanzaa and is observed on December 26th. Karenga’s interpretation of this principle is, “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.” 

As the excitement and joy of the Christmas holiday quiets, and the new year approaches, it is crucial to reflect on our responsibility to maintain, improve and encourage unity within our homes and the larger community. 

The primary symbols of Kwanzaa include: 

  • Mazao (The Crops): These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor. 
  • Mkeka (The Mat): This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build. 
  • Kinara (The Candle Holder): This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people — continental Africans. 
  • Muhindi (The Corn): This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody. 
  • Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup): This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible. 
  • Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles): These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs. 
  • Zawadi (The Gifts): These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children. 



By Mia Imani Quigley 

Kujichagulia is the second principle of Kwanzaa. On December 27, the second red candle is lit to represent the struggles endured by African descendants. This principle refers to “the defining, creating, and speaking of oneself”; demanding that we as African people stand up for ourselves, speak our truth, and shape our world in our own imagination. As Kujichagulia emphasizes commitment to defining identity, it brings forth the questions: “Who am I? Am I really who I am? And Am I all I ought to be?”. In order to discover the honest answers and achieve self-determination, we must first recover historical truths and indulge in cultural practices. This theory is defined as Afrocentricity: the theory of social change centered around the cultural image and historical experiences of African people. This practice does not seek to deny history, but rather to reconstruct it in the intent to restore cultural grounds. Rebuilding these grounds provides understanding and awareness of the rights and contributions we obtain human beings. To commemorate our ability to speak for ourselves and take control of our future, we are encouraged on this day to say no to things that do not resonate with us and take the time to do things that do. 



By Ada Umubera

Ujima, meaning “Collective Work and Responsibility” in Swahili, stands as the third principle of Kwanzaa. It emphasizes the importance of working together to establish and sustain a vibrant community. This principle stresses active involvement, reminding us to contribute to the well-being of the community and take joint responsibility for its success and progress. 

In the context of Madison, WI, Ujima challenges us to be more than mere observers and actively engage in improving our surroundings. It prompts us to assess the tangible ways our actions contribute to the community’s strength. By fostering collective responsibility for success, Ujima aims to instill unity and a shared sense of purpose among community members. 

During Kwanzaa, take a moment to reflect on your role in the Madison community inspired by Ujima. How do your actions actively contribute to making the community stronger? In what practical ways do your choices impact the well-being of those around you? Answering these questions on a personal level helps recognize the pragmatic impact of Ujima in shaping both the community and individual roles within it. How can, or has, your active participation led to concrete positive changes and collective progress? 



By Joseline Nyinawabera, MBA

Ujamaa, the fourth principle of Kwanzaa, embodies the spirit of cooperative economics, advocating for the collective building and maintenance of businesses for community prosperity. 

To fully grasp this principle, let’s first define cooperative. Cooperative involves collaborative effort in working toward a common goal. Ujamaa encourages us to view ourselves as a collective, working together to create a thriving economic ecosystem. It’s about pooling resources, skills, and knowledge to establish businesses that generate profits and foster community growth and well-being. 

As community members, supporting businesses within our community becomes essential to embodying Ujamaa. Patronizing local stores, shops, and services ensures our spending power circulates within the community. Actively engaging in the success of these enterprises is also vital. From liking and sharing posts on social media, writing reviews, and providing constructive feedback, our involvement can fuel growth. 

For business owners, embracing Ujamaa means establishing strong business foundations, creating compelling brands aligned with values, and implementing strategic marketing plans to build thriving businesses. To help utilize available resources. There are many free and paid resources and AI tools to enhance operational efficiency, expand market reach, and elevate customer satisfaction. Collaboration and knowledge sharing among businesses are also encouraged, elevating each other’s practices and leading to collective growth and innovation. 

Ujamaa advocates for hiring within the community, recognizing the abundance of untapped potential. By fostering growth internally, we contribute to the long-term growth of our neighborhoods. 

Ujamaa reminds us that economic empowerment is not a singular pursuit but a collective endeavor. When we embrace the spirit of cooperation, we create a more just and prosperous society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.



By Erika Bullock

The fifth principle of Kwanzaa, Nia, means “purpose.” Nia calls us to focus our collective efforts on building, defending, and developing our community. This is our single collective purpose. We are stewards of a great historical legacy and we have a responsibility to the generations that preceded us and those that will follow us to preserve and transfer a robust cultural and historical identity. While Nia focuses on collective purpose, it also acknowledges that each of us has an individual purpose that we have been equipped to fulfill. Our personal purpose and our collective social purpose separate, but they are not in conflict. They complement each other because our individual purpose is the way that we are each uniquely gifted to uplift our community. 



By Erika Bullock

The sixth principle of Kwanzaa is Kuumba or “Creativity.” According to Kuumba, we are responsible for doing all that we can to leave things more beautiful than we found them. This beauty is not simply aesthetic. Rather, we are to make whatever we touch and wherever we go better because we have encountered it. Kuumba connects with Nia because our collective purpose to build our community requires that we are committed to its improvement. Our people have made the world more beautiful through art, music, literature, sports, politics, invention, protest, and so many other contributions. Black people have marked the world and changed the game in countless ways. These marks are reminders that we are here and that we shape culture in ways that require acknowledgement. These contributions are part of our great historical legacy. Each of us has a personal purpose that will allow us to leave our personal contribution to this legacy. 



By Mia Imani Quigley

Imani is the seventh and final principle in the Kwanzaa celebration. On the first of January, the last green candle on the Kinara is lit, representing future and hope. Imani means faith; a valued aspect in African American culture that provides strength, beauty, and understanding. Faith represents not only the belief of the Creator, but also the commitment to family, community, and culture. Unity is placed as the first kwanzaa principle to highlight the belief that without unity We cannot begin our most important work. Faith is placed last to emphasize that belief that Without faith we cannot sustain unity. This principle is subdivided into “faith in our people” and “faith in our struggle”.  It begins in the hands of the Creator, which extends to the support of their community and further into the progress of oneself. Believing in the importance of struggle, motivates achievement of a higher level of humanity as proud, free, and supportive beings.  According to Maulana Karenga (creator of Kwanzaa), the principle of faith means: “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.” On this final day of Kwanzaa, we reflect on the struggles of the past and believe in a thriving future of freedom, spirituality, and peace of society that is forthcoming.