Tag Archives: African American





Kwanzaa is a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to show respect and appreciation for the history and of people of African ancestry and to also celebrate family and community.  It is celebrated for a week from December 26 to January 1st.  The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.  First fruits celebrations date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia and pertain to the harvest. The holiday is considered a cultural instead of religious holiday and any one can celebrate regardless of their faith.

The history of Kwanzaa dates back to the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960’s. The principles are in the Swahili language since it is the most widely used African language.

According to the Huffington Post, “the colors black, red, and green are part of Kwanzaa celebrations due to their special significance. Black represents the people, red is for the blood uniting all those with African ancestry, as well as the blood shed during slavery and the civil rights movement, and green is for the lush land of Africa. These colors also reflect the Pan-African movement itself.”

Kwanzaa Stamp

Kwanzaa has seven principles, one celebrated on each day of the holiday and known collectively as Nguzo Saba. They are African values which are named in both Swahili with English translations.

    • Umoja: Unity
    • Kujichagulia: Self-determination
    • Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
    • Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
    • Nia: Purpose
    • Kuumba: Creativity
    •   Imani: Faith

Some of the traditions celebrated during Kwanzaa include songs such as the Black National Anthem and lighting the kinara.  A black candle from the center is used to light the candles from left to right.  There is a candle to represent each one of  the seven principles.Together, the candles are called the mishuuma saba. The kikombe cha umoja, or Unity Cup is another important tradition.


Countries In Africa

It is a large continent but how many countries in Africa are there?  I must admit that I did not know so I looked it up. There are 52 countries total. Nigeria is by far the largest with a population of 146,255,000.  The second largest is Ethiopia with a population of 82,544,800 followed by Egypt-81,713,500, democratic republic of the Congo – 66,514,000, and South Africa with a population of 48,782,800.  The size of some of the countries vary widely from Nigeria’s population in the nine digits to  the lowest population of 206,178 in Sao Tome and Principe.  Several of the other countries with the lowest populations are Djibouti – 506,221 and Equatorial Guinea – 616.459.

Some authorities consider there to be 47 countries instead of 52.  The difference in this number is the four islands, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Madagascar, the Comoros, the Seychelles, and Mauritius. The 47 are on the mainland of Africa.  Occasionally there is a dispute about some of the island countries not being African, but in general all  have strong historical ties to Africa so therefore are generally included.

Religion in Africa


Religion in Africa

What are the major religions in Africa? Christianity and Islam are the two major religions. The percentage of the people who do not practice in Christianity or Islam practice traditional or folk-lore religions.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the  largest religion in Africa. The population is 47% Muslim. This accounts for 1/4 of the world’s Muslim population. Islam’s history in Africa stems from Prophet Muhammad, whose early disciples migrated to Abyssinia in fear of persecution from the pagan Arabs.

Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria, Africa
Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria, Africa

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is the largest religion, and is also the other predominate religion on the continent. According to Wikipedia,

“Christianity existed in Ethiopia before the rule of King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum, but the religion took a strong foot hold when it was declared a state religion in 330 AD, becoming one of the first Christian nations. The earliest and best known reference to the introduction of Christianity to Africa is mentioned in the Christian Bible‘s Acts of the Apostles, and pertains to the evangelist Phillip’s conversion of an Ethiopian traveler in the 1st Century AD. Although the Bible refers to them as Ethiopians, scholars have argued that Ethiopia was a common term encompassing the area South-Southeast of Egypt.”

The Hanging Church and Christianity in Africa
The Hanging Church and Christianity in Africa

Traditional religions in Africa are difficult to summarize because the diversity of African cultures, but they do have some characteristics in common. According to Wikipedia, “Generally, they are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme being, belief in spirits and other divinities, veneration of ancestors, use of magic, and traditional medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural.”

Approximately 10% of the population practice traditional religions that have been passed down through the generations orally and can be found through art, rituals and festivals, beliefs and customs, names of people and places, songs and dances, proverbs, and myths.

Folk religion exists outside the official doctrine and practices and consists of ethnic or religious regional customs. It has been defined as “the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion.”


Folk religions in Africa - Voodo Altar
Folk religions in Africa – Voodo Altar








Juneteenth Official Holiday


Emancipation Day Celebration
Emancipation Day Celebration

Recently I learned something I was not familiar with,  the official holiday Juneteenth. Celebrated on June 19th, it marks the end of slavery in the United States.  It has been a tradition in the African American community since the late 19th century. Considered a state holiday or special day of observance in 42 of the states, the 8 states that do not recognize it are Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

The popularity of the holiday has varied over the years.  In the early 20th century there was a decline in the Juneteenth celebrations because of economical and social forces.  During the Depression, many blacks were forced off farms and into cities to find work.  The employers in urban environments were less likely to permit leave for the celebrations. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the celebrations were considered a reminder of the historical struggle of their ancestors and declined because of this. In 1968, Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Poor People’s March call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor.   Afterwards many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth official holiday celebrations in their communities. During the 1980s and 1990s  the Juneteenth popularity continued to grow.  African American communities and organizations throughout the country have an interest to see that the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten and recognize roots tying back to Texas soil from which all remaining American slaves were finally granted their freedom.

Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas - where the proclamation was read from the balcony
Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas – where the proclamation was read from the balcony





Education in Africa

Education in Africa

What are the challenges for education in Africa?  I have wondered about this and have heard of various charities, including Oprah, that are opening schools and reaching out to Africa to help establish educational priorities. Being a former educator, I was wondering what are the statistics and facts concerning this.

I was surprised to learn that Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world and by the year 2030, half of its
population will be living and working in towns and cities. There are definite challenges facing Africa though. According to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)1.UNESCO2 and World Bank3:

“Although literacy rates have greatly improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 remain illiterate.

Illiteracy among individuals over the age of 15 stands at 41 per cent; gender disparity in education prevails in 75 per cent of countries.In the period 2000–06, Seychelles had the highest adult literacy rate (92%); Mali and Burkina Faso had the lowest (24%).

 Early childhood development is, in most countries, left to private sector actors primarily working in urban areas in aid of more advantaged social groups. 

 Almost 50% of countries may not attain the goal of universal primary education by 2015; nearly 40 million children are not going to school.

 Liberia has the lowest primary student-teacher ratio of 19; in Mozambique the ratio is 67. Cape Verde has the highest gross enrollment rate in secondary education (80%); Niger has the lowest (11%).

 Enrollment in lower secondary school rose to 46% in 2003 from 28% in 1991. The gross secondary school enrollment rate exceeds 20% in half of the countries, yet remains below 8 per cent in in 10 countries.”


Amani School, Kenya Africa
Amani School, Kenya Africa

Approximately ten years ago, the daughter of a close friend of mine from high school started a small school in Dianti Beach, Kenya, Africa.  As it was explained to me, the Amani school was to meet the need for those children that had been kept out of public school because they could not afford the fees and were behind for their grade level. I became friends with Consolata Muysawa, one of the teachers and we exchanged our students art work.

The story for the Amani School has progressed with great strides.  In the last 10 year the school has expanded from very modest beginnings of a thatch roof on four poles to four permanent buildings that contain a nursery, two kindergarten classes, primary education up to grade 5.  There are adult education courses in the evenings. In addition to reading and writing in both English and Swahili, the students are taught math, social studies, art and physical education. The property is also home to Maweni Village’s only fresh water well, three sanitary latrines. There is a kitchen that enables Amani’s free lunch program. Just recently, a clinic was opened in the village which affords free medical care to all students of the Amani School. There is a continued need for support for the Amani School and other educational charities and programs in Africa, but you can make a difference by donating and helping spread awareness.

African Culture

Africa is a country rich in culture and natural beauty. Its’ history dates back over  5 million years ago as the birthplace of the human species. Diversity is widespread across the continent. Many different languages are spoken and there are hundreds of distinct religions.  People live in a variety of different types of dwellings and there is a range of economic activities.

African masks
African masks

According to Africaguide.com, “Over the centuries, people from other parts of the world have migrated to Africa and settled there. Historically, Arabs have been the most numerous immigrants. Starting in the 7th century AD, they crossed into North Africa from the Middle East, bringing the religion of Islam with them. A later movement of Arabs into East and Central Africa occurred in the 19th century. Europeans first settled in Africa in the mid-17th century near the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of the continent. More Europeans immigrated during the subsequent colonial period, particularly to present-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Algeria. South Asians also arrived during colonial times. Their descendants, often referred to as Indians, are found largely in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.”

African shield
African shield

Cultural activity in Africa is centered around the family and the ethnic group. religious and social patterns are reinforced by art, music and oral literature. Although the westernized minority was first rejected by African traditional culture. a cultural revival occurred. There is support by most African nations for national dance and music groups and museums.  Artists and writers are supported to a lesser degree.


African American History Month – Collage Mural – February

Teaching African American history during the month of February is important to all cultures not just for African Americans.  By helping the students be aware of African American history recognition and value is placed on the culture as a race.  Dr. Martin Luther King is the most widely recognized hero to all people but there are many more.  I have noticed that African American students are much more knowledgeable of a broad spectrum of African American leaders and heroes are than students of other races.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

One idea to help emphasize and form better understanding of whatever specific topic is being focused on such the Civil War, civil rights heroes, African American inventors, etc, is to have the students create a mural either on long bulletin board paper or on a large stretched canvas.  One year my fifth grade students had been studying the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.  In their art class with me, we discussed of how to determine a symbol for each event on the timeline of the Underground Railroad. Then a background was painted on a large canvas and then the students were divided into groups.  Each group was assigned a symbol to paint on the mural.  Some of the symbols that we chose were a lantern, a slave running during his escape, a plantation owner with a large home, etc.  Another way to accomplish this is to research ahead of time and collect pictures from the internet on certain African American history topics or go to a local library and look up the newspapers during the time frame of the civil rights movement on microfish. Have the articles printed out with the dates and pictures and let the students assemble a collage using a painted background and either thinned down glue or acrylic medium.

printed headline
printed headline

This should be painted on the surface of the mural, then apply the article or picture and then another coat directly on top.  After it dries several more coats of the thinned glue or acrylic medium will seal the collage. the project can become a permanent accessory for the school’s hallway or offices. This project is very interesting for the students and was met with wide acclaim with the administrators and parents alike.

February – African American History Month- African Masks Art Lesson Plan

The month of February is African American history month.  I observed first hand when I was teaching inner city schools the pride my students experienced when their heritage and history was recognized and honored. I developed several art lesson plans that I would teach during this time frame. One lesson plan that the students enjoyed creating was African masks. I would show them a Power Point with photos of African masks.

IMG_0105 IMG_0106 IMG_0108The process of creating the masks can offer variations and be changed from year to year by either using colored construction paper and the students draw with markers or craypas or using white paper and the students painting the designs.  A pattern for the masks is provided so that the size and placement of the eyes will be correct.  After the masks have been cutout and decorated with surface designs, other materials can be added by gluing.  Assorted materials can include but are not limited to, cut construction paper in different colors, twine, yarn, moss, etc.  The art work was then displayed and  many times the students asked when they would be able to take their finished artwork home so they could proudly show their parents.  This art project is adaptable for all ages of students.  My students never tired of this project from year to year and looked forward to it because each mask was different.  They especially enjoyed adding materials for hair which can be yarn or moss, but also can be folded strips of construction paper cut in thin strips  or for curly hair show them how to wrap it around a pencil and pull tight.

For detailed information and materials for this project with a list of curriculum standards, please sign up for my mailing list.