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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.

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.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015


Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

GIF from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

And continues through adolescence, still through entertainment.

"I'd rather die than stay away from you."

GIF from "Twilight."

And then guess what happens? We're peddled some more of what we're supposedly meant to be aiming for when we're adults.

"I was the one girl he chose from 20 other girls to be with. Now I know I'm special!" — me, mocking probably very sweet people.

GIF from "The Bachelor."

There are so many examples of this, it's difficult to narrow them down. Not to mention all the social cues coming in all stealth-bomber-like to beat one's psyche into submission. Like when single people go to weddings, their family members casually ask them, "When will YOU settle down?" And when a friend goes through a breakup, it's almost instinctive to reassure them that there's someone out there for them.

But what if not everyone is supposed to pair off? What if some people are — wait for it — happier when they're single?

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

@elenisabracos on TikTok

Look, it’s a sad situation for anyone to hear that Adele will not be gracing the stage any time soon. The beloved singer woefully announced on Instagram last Friday (Jan 21) that her planned residency in Las Vegas “wasn’t ready” due to coronavirus. Half of her crew had been infected, making it “impossible to finish the show.”

But for one fan in particular, who has tried—and failed miserably—to catch Adele live on three separate occasions, the news hit particularly hard. Luckily, her sense of humor proves that any tragedy can turn into comedy gold.

This story, with all its hilarious twists and turns, is quite the delightful saga. And though it doesn’t erase all the gutting disappointments left from pandemic cancellations, it does serve as wholesome entertainment.

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Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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