For Thirty Years, Kwanzaa Charlotte Has Educated Many


CHARLOTTE, NC – For thirty years Kwanzaa Charlotte has worked feverishly to engage Charlotte’s MSA in African American history by not only learning, but practicing the seven principles of Kwanzaa while gaining the pride of yester-year. Not to interfere with Christmas, Kwanzaa begins the day following, December 26 and continues through January 1st of the upcoming year, and has seven core principles.

Weeks prior to each celebration, Kwanzaa Charlotte provides special classes not only for Charlotte citizens, but surrounding areas as well.

For many years, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Shipman, pastor of Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church, has had the pleasure of serving as host pastor the first and last nights of each celebration, and most often delivering the special message at each. He took a moment out to ask for a celebratory moment for often Kwanzaa speaker, Makheru Bradley who was celebrating his birthday January 1st, who closed out the evening leading the farewell statement as well.

Nightly, the elders (those over 60) are asked for permission, which is “Veneration” to begin, following which the Libation Statement is shared:

Our fathers and mothers came here, lived, loved, struggled and built here. At this place, their love and labor rose like the sun and gave strength and meaning to the day. For them, then, who gave so much we give in return. On this same soil we will sow our seeds, and liberation and a higher level of human life. May our eyes be the eagle, our strength be the elephant, and the boldness of our life be like the lion. And may we remember and honor our ancestors and the legacy they left for as long as the sun shines and the waters flow. For our people everywhere then:

For Shaka, Samory, and Nzingha and all the others known and unknown who defended our ancestral land, history and humanity from alien invaders; For Garvey, Muhammad, Malcolm, and King; Harriet, Fannie Lou, Sojourner, Bethune, and Nat Turner and all the others who dared to define, defend, and develop our interests as a people; For our children and the fuller and freer lives they will live because we struggles; For Kawaida and the Nguzo Saba, the new system of views and values which gives identity, purpose, and direction to our lives; For the new world we struggle to build; And for the continuing struggle through which we will inevitably rescue and reconstruct our history and humanity in our own image and according to our own needs. Saying “Ashe” following each set of those.

Each night is assigned a “Principle,” and they are: 1. Umoja – Unity: To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race; 2. Kujichagulia – Self-Determination: To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves; 3. Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility: To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together; 4. Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together; 5. Nia – Purpose: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness; 6. Kuumba – Creativity: To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it; and, 7. Imani – Faith: To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. – Dr. Maulana Karenga

Nightly, children are gathered around the fruits and candles to share the principles as each candle is lite by a child – the little ones get great joy from the experience whether they can reach them are not, they know Ms. Toni Tupponce will be there to help, in the experience known as the Lighting of the Mishumaa Saba.

Kwanzaa Charlotte quickly bonded with A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas directed by Tyrone Jefferson, Charlotte’s intergenerational African Drummers, directed by Garry Munford, and together they provide a true recognition of talents born from an African heritage like none other. Doors are often opened to young talent, and this year was no different. Five-year-old Master Niles Rivers playing his trombone that was longer than he is tall, yet he played his heart out in tune with ASOTT and on time; Northwest School of the Arts senior and Mya Angelou up-and coming, C’Mone rolling off her tongue her written words, “I Am Not Your Negro,” and last, but never least, Northwest School of the Arts senior, Donovan Teasley, who went head-to-head with director Tyrone Jefferson and his band members! And of course we can never forget the talents of Garry Munfords African Drummers of all ages, always at the head of the chart as well.

As always, ASOTT performed at the top of all charts, but the favorites of the evening were: They kicked off the evening with Life in the Key of Ah and “Thank You Lord,” and rolled into; To Be Young Gifted & Black, People Get Ready, Keep On Pushin’. Where else can one enjoy this level of music at no cost?

And on a personal request, I send a shout-out and prayer request for C’Mone, who will compete in Chicago in the spring. We’ll keep you posted on the date.

Not funded by any local, county, or state entities, each year Kwanzaa Charlotte endeavors to grow and improve, teach and instruct, but most importantly embrace the return of respect and pride of our ancestors, while offering treats and refreshments as often as possible during and or following each night.


Maulana Karenga, also known as Ronald McKinley Everett, created Kwanzaa in 1966, as the first specifically African-American holiday, not excluding Junteenth. According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase Matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the harvest,” although a more conventional translation would simply be "first fruits." The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s, although most of the Atlantic slave trade that brought African people to America originated in West Africa. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa, celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday's name with an additional "a" so that it would have a symbolic seven letters.

Kwanzaa is a celebration with its roots in the Black nationalist movement of the 1960's. Karenga established it to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the "seven principles of African Heritage," which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy." For Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960's and 1970's, the creation of such holidays also underscored an essential premise "you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose and direction."