7 African American Literary Characters That Exemplify Kwanzaa Principles

Today marks the fifth day of Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration of African heritage. Each day is dedicated to one of seven core principles, or Nguzo Saba. In honor of Kwanzaa, Zola selected seven female African-American characters we felt best exemplified each principle.

Umoja (Unity)
NaTasha, Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

At first, NaTasha knows nothing about Umoja, the principle of maintaining unity in the family and community. She is one of the only African-American girls in her school and she works very hard to assimilate. It isn't until she goes to stay with her grandmother in Harlem that she finds herself, connects with her heritage, and becomes comfortable in her own skin. By the end of her summer in Harlem she has a great sense of Umoja.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
Rachel Morse, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Kujichagulia means that you have the ability to define yourself, speak for yourself, and create for yourself. This is something Rachel struggled to learn as a child of mixed race. After tragedy strikes, she moves in with her African-American grandmother and experiences life in a mostly black community. While the world demands that she be seen as either black or white, Rachel reflects on where she has come from to find her true self.


Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
Rue, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It is hard to imagine someone who had more Ujima than Rue. The principle of Ujima is to build and maintain the community by helping out every member who needs it. Rue is always ready to help out those in need and those that she trusts. When the people of District 11 needed a way to know when the working day was over, Rue devised a communication system. When Katniss, a girl who should've been a rival, was suffering from the stings of the deadly tracker-jacker, Rue uses her knowledge of plants to heal Katniss. Rue is Ujima personified.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
Soonie, Show Way by Jaqueline Woodson

Ujamaa represents a need for the community to be able to stand up economically together. This is best exemplified through Soonie, a young girl who was born free, yet learned the tradition of sewing that had been passed through her family for generations. Originally the Show Way quilts were used as maps to help slaves escape; by the time Soonie is teaching her daughter how to make them, the quilts not only remind them of their heritage, but they're sold at market to support the family

Nia (Purpose)
Josephine Bell, The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Nia involves vocation and the collective development of community to restore the African-American people to their traditional greatness. Josephine is a 17-year-old slave whose mistress uses her artistic talents to make a name for herself. Over 150 years later, Josephine's paintings are involved in a historic class-action lawsuit that is worth trillions in reparations for descendants of American slaves. While Josephine is not able to testify, her work speaks for itself and is pivotal in the recognition of her, and her people's, artistic heritage.

Kuumba (Creativity)
Clarice 'Precious' Jones, Push by Sapphire

The world Precious inherited was dark. At only 16 she was the mother to one child and pregnant with another, she had been kicked out of school, and was being abused verbally and sexually by her parents. By the end of the novel she has utilized Kuumba in the best possible ways. Kuumba involves leaving the community more beautiful and beneficial than found, a feat Precious accomplishes by speaking up for herself, leaving her toxic home, joining support groups, getting an education, and putting forth other positive changes that will enable her children to grow up far better than she did.

Imani (Faith)
Deza Malone, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Struggling to survive the Great Depression, Deza Malone's father leaves the family to find work. Deza must have Imani--faith in the community, family, and in the ending of struggles. She must have faith that her father will come home, that things will get better, and in her family's motto, "We are a family on a journey to a place called wonder." With so much weight on her little shoulders, Deza embodies that faith perfectly.

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