Parenting Through the Kwanzaa Framework

October 17, 2012

Continuing Series

Kwanzaa places a premium and priority on the value of children. The Kwanzaa symbol Corn/Muhindi represents children. All families regardless of whether they have children place ears of corn on the Kwanzaa “Mat” in recognition that everyone is responsible for the care, welfare, and development of children. The African American community-based parenting model grew out of the experience of blacks in slavery and the post-Civil War experience and is perhaps the most definitive illustration of this symbol and the Kwanzaa principle Ujima. After the Civil War, tens of thousands of black children were without parents. As was the practice during their enslavement, African American adults assumed responsibility for these children, embracing them as part their own current and future families. Thus, what emerged from black enslavement was a principle of collective responsibility for the care and welfare of children, regardless of blood ties.

Moreover, the African American community-based parenting approach mirrored in concept and practice the template of parenting observed in traditional African societies. It was a model which was anchored in the belief and principle that all children belong to the community and that it was the responsibility (Ujima) of all adults to care for children. The strength of this model is embedded in the number of adults in the environment of children who are able to nurture and care for their needs.

Children in the community-based parenting model have more than one set of parents and know many women as mother and many men as father. In this parenting approach, the children grows up experiencing and knowing that all adults are responsibility for their well-being, and that support does not rest solely with their parents. What fathers can not offer, uncles will. What mothers can not give sisters and cousins and others will. Consequently, children in this model begin life with an enlarged sense of belonging and significance.

Furthermore, parents, especially single ones, feel, and indeed, much more material and emotional support, an important factor in healthy parenting. As Canadian physician and bestselling author Dr. Gabor Maté argues, “the conditions in which children develop have been so corrupted and troubled over the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present for many kids.” A recent study by professor Darcia Narvaez of Notre Dame, a psychologist, has shown that the conditions for child development that hunter-gatherer societies provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids. And she says, actually, that the way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being in a moral sense.

Given all of the above, the African American community-based model is well-suited to address the crisis which now grips American parents in general and African Americans parents in particular.


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