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It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Kwanzaa ...

Black retailers awaken to ujamaa--the power of cooperative economics

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary A. Mitchell began observing Kwanzaa with her family nearly two decades ago. "When I stumbled upon a book about Kwanzaa in the early '80s, I was overjoyed" wrote Mitchell. "That first Kwanzaa was our best. My children wove the straw mat out of construction paper. The kinara was seven used candleholders, and we carved out a coconut to use as a unity cup. According to the book's instructions, all the gifts were handmade or purchased from a black-owned business."

The Mitchells are among an estimated 15 million people of African descent who observe the holiday in some form. Celebrants are quick to emphasize that Kwanzaa is not "Black Christmas," nor is it a religious holiday. But the steady increase in the number of people and groups celebrating Kwanzaa has given rise to what some fear is the beginning of a troubling trend--the mainstream commercialization of the holiday. "Non-black-owned businesses finally have figured out that Kwanzaa is a good vehicle to use to reach African American consumers," said Mary Mitchell.

Sala Damali, a co-producer of the International Black Buyers Expo and Conference, agrees. "Kwanzaa celebrates black self-determination, black creativity and black cooperative economics as basic principles," said Damali. "It only makes sense for those who observe Kwanzaa to get their ceremonial items and gifts from black businesses."

That's music to the ears of Victor and Carole Gellineau of Brookfield, Connecicut. Since 1985, the husband-and-wife team has run Carole Joy Creations, Inc. Among their product line of more than 400 items sold in bookstores and other retail outlets is a selection of Kwanzaa greeting cards and gift-wrapping paper.

"There is definitely something wrong when you can go to Kmart and buy a Kwanzaa set," said Blanche Richardson of Marcus Books in Oakland, California. "Hallmark sells Kwanzaa cards. But I tell people: `If you're going to Hallmark and getting a card, you're not celebrating Kwanzaa.' It's a direct contradition of the intent of Kwanzaa."

When Dr. Maulana Karenga established Kwanzaa in 1966, he hoped to unify African Americans under a set of common goals and objectives, represented by the principles of each day of the week-long fete. As Kwanzaa grows, celebrants work harder to adhere to the principles under a constant shower of mainstream marketing. According to Damali however, it's worth the effort. "Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of principles that should be adhered to 365 days a year."
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Author:Osborne, Gwendolyn E.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:409
Previous Article:RACE MAN JULIAN RICHARDSON 1916-2000.
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