Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University (Long Beach), was born on July 14, 1941, in Maryland. Dr. Karenga is credited for establishing Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African holiday.
Dr. Karenga holds two Ph.D. degrees, the first in political science from the United States International University and his second in social ethics from the University of Southern California. He also holds an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa.
As a scholar and activist, Dr. Karenga was influential in expanding the conversation on Black political and intellectual culture during the 1960s. Through his Kawaida philosophy and his organization, he was able to help shape Black Arts Movement, Black Studies, the Black Power Movement, Black Student Union Movement, the independent Black school movement and others.
Outside of being an activist, Dr. Karenga is widely known as the creator of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa was first introduced by Dr. Karenga in 1966 to celebrate family, community and culture. The annual celebration begins on December 26th and lasts until January 1st. Dr. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, including those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu tribes, to help form the basis of Kwanzaa.
On each night of Kwanzaa, families gather together to light one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder) and then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles are called the Nguzo Saba, which means seven principles in Swahili.
These principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kuji chagulia), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani). The events and celebrations are all organized around these principles despite a decline in participation in recent years.
Dr. Karenga’s fields of study include topics of ancient Egypt, Black studies theory and history, African American intellectual history and the socio-ethical thought of Malcolm X. He has also authored several articles and books, including Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics; The Book of Coming Forth By Day: The Ethics of the Declarations of Innocence and Introduction to Black Studies.
Dr. Karenga has also received numerous awards for his scholarship and service.