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By Daniel Winner | AC JosepH Media Correspondent

ATLANTIC CITY — Habari gani?


The second day of Kwanzaa celebrates the virtue of “Kujichagulia” or “self-determination.” This is a time “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.”

How do you see yourself? How do others see you? Do they see you differently than you see yourself?

As we think about ways to define ourselves, we can also consider ways we might feel stuck as “being” a certain way.

We can trap ourselves in an endless sense of shame and lack of confidence because of things done in our past, because of ways others try to make us think we are less than worthy of a fulfilling life. Rather, we must focus on the good that has been done and bolster its development while refraining from the bad.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa once said, “What [W. E. B.] Dubois said, and Malcolm said it, all the other great teachers said it, that we must use our knowledge to improve our present and enhance our future. Give honor to our past. That is our task, you know, to know our past and honor it, to engage our present and improve it, and to imagine a good future and to forge it.”

We are a product of our past, in our actions, words and thoughts. What we experience in the here and now are the fruits of our past. The harvest that we will reap in the future is due to not only the remnants of our past, but also from the attitudes and behaviors that we exemplify today.

Let us not conflate Kujichagulia with self-centeredness. There is no notion of self worth being so attached to that it leads us to creating a sort of mistaken identity. It can be especially dangerous to think of self-determination in this way, as we can become overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy. On the other hand, we must not let pride devolve into conceit, lest we repeat the injustices of the oppressor. Karenga reminded us that self-determination applies to no single self, but to all persons.

“In a time in which occupation and oppression of countries and peoples are immorally presented as necessary and even salvational, the principle of Kujichagulia rejects this and reaffirms the right of persons and peoples to determine their own destiny and daily lives; to live in peace and security; and to flourish in freedom everywhere.”

Yes, we are a product of our past, but we are more than capable of determining where we go by what we create right now. Our ancestors instilled in us culture and virtue that has allowed our communities to persevere. Strength is found in the present, and only we have the power to define who we are. As we light the first red candle, we remember that self-determination is the first step in the struggle, but the flame is bright.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Winner has a double major in Religious Studies and Japanese from Penn State University and has traveled internationally to the Far East on several occasions. His insights on Buddhism and Asian culture give a unique view of historical and modern trends. He will be serving as a contributor for Front Runner New Jersey.

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