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Kujichagulia Means ‘Self-Determination’: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries

‘To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.’
Hakeem Jeffries. Photo: Miranda Levingston for BK Reader.

The second day of Kwanzaa honors Kujichagulia, which means self-determination, and is celebrated on Tuesday, Dec. 27. 

The second principle of the Nguzo Saba, as well as all seven principles, expresses itself as both commitment and practice. 

On the second day, families are meant to light the red candle, although the order and number of colors can be flexible based on personal choice. 

The red candle symbolizes the effort a person, family, school or community makes. Lighting the red candle reinforces the value of work and effort. Frederick Douglass reminds us that If there is no struggle, there is no progress. 

Each person must ask themself three basic questions: 

1.  Who am I? 
2.  Am I really who I say I am? 
3.  Am I all that I ought to be? 

These are questions of history and culture, not simply questions of personal identity. More profoundly, they are questions of collective identity, borne out in historical and cultural practice. And the essential quality of that practice must be the quality of self-determination. 

To answer the question of “Who am I?” correctly, then, is to know and live one’s history and to practice one’s culture. 

To answer the question of “Am I really who I am?” is to have and employ a cultural criterion of authenticity, i.e., criteria of what is real and unreal, what is appearance and essence, what is culturally-rooted and foreign. 

And to answer the question of “Am I all I ought to be?” is to self-consciously possess and use ethical and cultural standards which measure men, women and children in terms of the quality of their thought and practice in the context of who they are and must become – in both an African and human sense. 

Brooklyn resident Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is a perfect example of someone practicing Kujichagulia. Before being elected minority leader of the House of Representatives for the next Congress, the Democrat was representing Brooklyn literally and culturally.  

Jeffries played a leading role in the passage of The Inflation Reduction Act.  He is a lead sponsor of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act that would end the racial disparity in federal sentencing for powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses.  He recited a Biggie Smalls lyric during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and said the gun violence epidemic must be addressed with the "fierce urgency of now."

When BK Reader sat down with Jeffries before the November election, he looked forward to focusing on the public safety concerns people have throughout the community, which means addressing gun violence.  The Gun Violence Prevention Research Act of 2021, is the most sweeping gun bill in decades.  

Being in Congress for fewer years than other members did not stop the Brooklynite from aiming for a leadership position. And if you don't know, now you know, Jeffries answers the call to make our own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history. 

To read the report from BK Reader's sit-down with Jeffries, go here

Today, let’s all practice self-determination! 

Beginning on Sunday, Dec. 26, and for the seven days of Kwanzaa, BK Reader will feature a different local resident or organization that exemplifies one of the seven principles!