On October 1, 2016 (American Heritage Day), in Charleston, S.C., in a little-noticed ceremony, the U.S. Postal Service dedicated its sixth and most permanent celebration of the African American holiday called Kwanzaa. Hosted by the MOJA Art Festival at Marion Square, U.S. Deputy Postmaster, Ronald Stroman, dedicated the U.S. Post Office’s Kwanzaa Forever stamp. Forever stamps remain equal in value to the current first-class mail, 1-ounce price.
This dedication presented the renowned artist Synthia St. James’ new visual, “Abundance” as the face of the stamp. This was Ms. St. James’ second Kwanzaa stamp creation. The first official stamp acknowledgement of Kwanzaa by the postal service in 1997, was also created by Ms. St. James, and that design sold a record 133 million stamps, according to the post office. Banking on a repeat of that popularity, the postal service put in a first run of 15 million of the new stamps.
The U.S. Postal Service had also done new designs for the Kwanzaa stamp in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013, demonstrating its commitment to recognizing the holiday.
A word on Ms. Saint James, who is a native New Yorker now calling Los Angeles her home. She is a highly respected, self-taught artist who was able to develop an “artistic style that is uniquely and recognizably her own.” Selling her first painting at age 20, she has now been a professional artist for more than 45 years. Her client list includes Barnes and Noble, Maybelline, UNICEF, Essence magazine and The Coca-Cola Company, among other well known companies. Ms. Saint James designed the original cover art for Terry McMillan’s hit first novel, “Waiting to Exhale,” and she has illustrated and authored 17 children’s books. Her work has been internationally acclaimed, and is on the walls of several United States embassies in different parts of the world.
Kwanzaa is the non-religious African American holiday called the celebration of the First Fruits of the Harvest, created by US Organization and Dr. Maulana Karenga of Los Angeles, and it is currently celebrated by millions of people every year from December 26—January 2. According to its website, Kwanzaa involves large numbers of African-descendants-in the USA, the Caribbean, Canada and in parts of Africa-- gathering with friends and family members seated around the mkeka (a straw mat symbolizing the history of African-Americans). Seven candles known as the mshumaa saba are lit, and on the seventh day, those gathered share in a feast that celebrates their common heritage. Kwanzaa is a festive occasion to rejoice in the likelihood of good health, future prosperity and good luck in the coming year, while also recalling the lessons of the past and their role in future progress and happiness.
The 2016 dedication by the postal service commemorates the 50th year of the celebration of Kwanzaa.
This year, the Disneyland Resort will present a recognition of the annual Kwanzaa celebration as part of its Festival of Holidays, “A Descendants Magical Holiday Celebration.”
What is also worth noting ,however, is that even though there are several Kwanzaa songs out publicly, there is yet no recognizable Kwanzaa theme song comparable to the Saint James stamps and paintings. Maybe 2016 will change that.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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