Joyous Kwanzaa, readers! Today marks the first day in the week-long celebration of African heritage. Each day is dedicated to one core principle inspired by African philosophy. Here, we’ve selected seven African-American characters in literature who best represent each principle.
Indigo, Destiny, Ericka, and Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity)
The first principle of Kwanzaa is unity. This is perfectly shown by the friendship between these four friends, who call themselves the Blackbirds. Their number one rule is to “always build each other up… never pull each other down.” They support each other, rely on each other, and help each other no matter what.
Madeline Whittier: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
Madeline is allergic to just about everything. She spends her days inside her sealed home and follows every instruction her mother gives her. When she decides she wants to change her life, she must learn to stand up for what she wants and take matters into her own hands. She fits self-determination to a T.
John Lewis: Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)
Is it cheating if we pick a real person? This picture book was inspired by the childhood of John Lewis, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Here, readers see the start of Lewis’ passion for creating a strong, unified community. He felt responsible for his literal flock and took care of them in every possible way.
Eddy Carmichael: Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)
The fourth day of Kwanzaa focuses on cooperative economics—building and maintaining African-American places of business. Eddy is determined to do exactly that. She’s on her way to California to share her gift for cooking and open her own restaurant.
Garvey: Nia (Purpose)
This middle grade novel follows Garvey as he tries to find his purpose. His father pressures him to play sports, but this young academic doesn’t feel fulfilled on the field. Once Garvey joins the choir, he learns that his true gift is his voice. He learns to sing loud and proud for his community.
Ada Navarra: Kuumba (Creativity)
Ada Navarra lives in an alternate America in 1919 where magic is practiced through art by people known as hemopaths. Though many are threatened by these gifted individuals, Ada uses her powers to create incredible things. Some want to lock her away because of her magic, but she fights every day to make her world a more accepting place. Ada beautifully represents what happens when creativity is used to help strengthen a community.
Georgia Young: Imani (Faith)
Changing your life isn’t easy, but that doesn’t stop Dr. Georgia Young. When this 54-year-old realizes that she’s unhappy, she decides to quit her job, sell her house, and hit the road in search of love. She could succeed and start a new life, or she could fail miserably. Imani represents faith, but that isn’t restricted to a higher power. Above all else, Georgia believes in herself. She knows the greatness that she’s capable of and stops at nothing to achieve it.