Published Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
Shoppers, business community share in economic principles of Kwanzaa
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 tribulations.
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