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My parents decided I needed a lesson in Kwanzaa. Now I'm sharing it with you.

You might not know these cool things about Kwanzaa, America's 'youngest' holiday.

My parents decided I needed a lesson in Kwanzaa. Now I'm sharing it with you.

I remember reading the "My First Kwanzaa Book" with my dad as a 7-year-old.

The Proud Family was always on point. GIF from "The Proud Family."

That year, I was completely occupied with making sure Santa knew that my Beanie Baby collection desperately needed an update, so my parents decided that I also desperately needed some cultural engagement outside of FAO Schwarz. That year, we read Kwanzaa books, went to West African fabric stores, and had deep cultural talks about the values of African-Americans.  


It was the first and last time I did anything Kwanzaa-related for a few years, but the experience stuck with me. Clearly, my parents wanted me to take some important values from the holiday. Now, as an adult, I realize the importance of having holidays that reflect your cultural values and ideology. As an African-American, knowing that there's a holiday that's built to support my identity is something that I didn't know back in 1999 I'd be so grateful for in 2016.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by at least 12 million people annually.

So why do we often ignore it or, worse, mock it? Probably because many folks didn't have a "My First Kwanzaa Book" in 1999 and also because it can be hard to ask about something you don't understand for fear of looking ignorant.

That's why, as a Kwanzaa celebrator, I wanted to break down what the holiday truly about. Here are seven things you might not know about Kwanzaa but might be too afraid to ask:

1. How long has this holiday been around?

Kwanzaa will actually be 50 years old this year, so it's a pretty young holiday as far as holidays go. Created by African-American studies professor Maulana Karenga in 1966, the holiday came about during the black nationalist movement. It was symbolic way for African-Americans to reconnect with their African roots and a culture that was largely censored during the Atlantic slave trade. It is a human-made holiday along with many others like Easter, Hanukkah, and St. Patrick's Day.

2. Where does the name come from?

The name is derived from Swahili, an East African language. It comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" meaning "first fruits of the harvest" or "fresh fruits."  

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

3. Who celebrates the holiday?

While the holiday honors African-American history and culture, the universal message behind it encourage folks from any racial or ethnic background to celebrate. According to Duke University professor Lee D. Baker, 12 million people celebrate the holiday each year, but the African-American Cultural Center puts that estimate at more like 30 million. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie are known to celebrate the holiday annually, too.      

4. Why is seven such an important number in Kwanzaa?

The number seven is key to Kwanzaa for several reasons. Aside from the name being seven letters, the holiday begins on Dec. 26 and lasts for seven days until Jan. 1. On those seven days, families focus on seven principals that are important to the people of the African diaspora:      

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-determination)
  • Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

Families light seven candles — three red, three green, and one black — on a candelabra as a dedication to those values. Some people wear "kente" cloth, a colorful African cloth, while lighting the candles.    

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

5. Why those colors?

The colors of Kwanzaa represent the Pan-African movement.

Pan-Africanism, an ideology that focuses on strengthening solidarity between all people of African descent, is the inspiration behind the principles of Kwanzaa. The colors black, red, and green represent "unity" amongst people from the African diaspora. Black represents the people, red represents the blood that unites everyone with African ancestry, and green represents the richness of African land.      

6. What religion does the holiday represent?

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. The holiday was modeled after the first harvest celebrations in Africa, and it was created to celebrate values like family, culture, and heritage. However, faith is central to it. "Imani," the word for "faith" in Swahili, is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.  

7. Why do people give this holiday such a hard time?

Kwanzaa was pretty popular when it first came onto the scene in the 1960s. It was created at a time when black pride was on the rise. But after the 1990s, popularity dwindled as the black civil rights struggle of the 1960s became something that younger Americans saw as a thing of the past. Because the creator is still alive, many saw Kwanzaa as an "invalid" holiday, thus making it the brunt of the holiday season.      

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

I believe that this year, more than ever, we need Kwanzaa.

As time goes on, culture ebbs and flows. The Black Lives Matter movement has reawakened the desire for real liberation for African-Americans, and many millennials are using Kwanzaa again as another way to reclaim black identity.

So whether you celebrate Kwanzaa this year or not, remember that the holidays, no matter what they are, give people a chance to celebrate our individual cultures and the magic and history within them.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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