Ron Karenga

Ron Karenga

Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett on July 14, 1941, and also known as Ron Everett) is an African American author and political activist. He is best known as the founder of Kwanzaa, a week-long Pan-African celebration observed each year from December 26 to January 1, initiated in California in 1966.


Karenga founded the Organization Us, a Cultural Black Nationalist group, in 1965. He later became chairman of the black studies department at California State University, Long Beach, a position he held from 1989 to 2002. []

He is also known for having co-hosted, in 1984, a conference that gave rise to the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, and in 1995, he sat on the organizing committee and authored the mission statement of the Million Man March. He is the director of the Kawaida Institute for Pan African Studies [] and the author of several books, including his "Introduction to Black Studies", a comprehensive black/African studies textbook now in its third edition.

Background and education

Karenga was born on a poultry farm in Parsonsburg, Maryland, the fourteenth child of a Baptist minister. He moved to California in the late 1950s to attend Los Angeles City College, where he became the first African-American president of the student body. He was admitted to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as part of a federal program for students who had dropped out of high school, and received his master's degree in political science and African studies.

He was awarded his first Ph.D. in 1976 from United States International University (now known as Alliant International University) for a 170-page dissertation entitled "Afro-American Nationalism: Social Strategy and Struggle for Community". Later in his career, in 1994, he was awarded a second PhD, in social ethics, from the University of Southern California (USC), for an 803-page dissertation entitled "Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt: A study in classical African ethics."

Influences of Malcolm X

Karenga was influenced in the creation of his ethos for US by Malcolm X.

"Malcolm was the major African American thinker that influenced me in terms of nationalism and Pan-Africanism. As you know, towards the end, when Malcolm is expanding his concept of Islam, and of nationalism, he stresses Pan-Africanism in a particular way. And he argues that, and this is where we have the whole idea that cultural revolution and the need for revolution, he argues that we need a cultural revolution, he argues that we must return to Africa culturally and spiritually, even if we can’t go physically. And so that’s a tremendous impact on US. And US saw it, when I founded it, as the sons and daughters of Malcolm, and as an heir to his legacy." —Ron Karengacite web|url=|publisher="The History Makers"|title="Maulana Karenga Malcolm X"|]

US Organization and the Black Panthers

At the beginning of the 1960s, Karenga met Malcolm X and began to embrace black nationalism. Following the Watts riots in 1965, he interrupted his doctoral studies at UCLA and joined the Black Power movement. During this time, he took on the title "maulana", Swahili for "master teacher" and "lord"; "Karenga" meant "nationalist." [] Earlier, he had called himself Ron Ndabezitha Everett-Karenga; Ndabezitha being Zulu for "your majesty." He formed the US Organization, an outspoken Black nationalist group.

In 1969, US and the Black Panthers disagreed over who should head the new Afro-American Studies Center at UCLA. According to a Los Angeles Times article, Karenga and his supporters backed one candidate, the Panthers another. The Black Student Union set up a coalition to try to bring peace between the groups, which ended when two members of the Black Panthers, John Jerome Huggins and Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter were shot dead in an altercation. []

Felony conviction and time in prison

In 1971 Karenga, Louis Smith, and Luz Maria Tamayo were convicted of felony assault and false imprisonment for assaulting and torturing over a two day period two women from the Us organization, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis. [ [ The Story of Kwaanza] By J. Lawrence Scholer | Monday, January 15, 2001 from The dartmouth Review. Accessed july 7, 2008] A May 14, 1971 article in the "Los Angeles Times" described the testimony of one of the women: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Ms. Davis's mouth and placed against Ms. Davis's face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

"Kawaida", the "Nguzo Saba", and Kwanzaa

In 1975, Karenga was released from California State Prison, with his newly adopted views on Marxism, and re-established the US organization under a new structure. One year later, he was awarded his first doctorate. In 1977, he formulated a set of principles called "Kawaida", a Swahili term for tradition. Karenga called on African Americans to adopt his secular humanism and reject other practices as mythical (Karenga 1977, pp. 14, 23, 24, 27, 44–5).

Central to Karenga's collectivist doctrine are the "Nguzo Saba," the Seven Principles of Blackness, which are reinforced during the seven days of Kwanzaa:
* Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
* Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
* Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.
* Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
* Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
* Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
* Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


* He is prominently featured in the 2008 Kwanzaa documentary, The Black Candle, directed by M.K. Asante, Jr. and narrated by Maya Angelou

* In 2005 Karenga made his theatrical debut when he and other African academics featured in the multi-award winning film "500 Years Later", directed by Owen 'Alik Shahadah.

* "USA the Movie" - Voice only

Books by Maulana Karenga

*"Introduction to Black Studies", 2002, 3rd edition, University of Sankore Press, ISBN 0-943412-23-4
*"Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice", 1977, Kawaida Groundwork Committee
* "Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt" ISBN 0-415-94753-7

Further Information

* [ Biography of Dr. Ron "Maulana" Karenga.]
* [ Interview with Dr. Karenga] , PBS Public Broadcasting Service and WGBH/Frontline
* [ The Story of Kwanzaa] by Laurence Scholer, "The Dartmouth Review", January 15, 2001, a criticism of Karenga and the holiday
* [ 500 Years Later The Film Site]
* [ IMDB Profile]
* [ The Official Kwanzaa Web site - Dr. Maulana Karenga]
* Scot Brown, "Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism," NYU Press, New York, 2003.


External links

* [ The Organization Us]

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