How do you define yourself? What values are important to you? How do you tell your story?
I asked a version of these questions earlier this month when I gave the Kwanzaa message at Pride Academy School in East Orange. These are questions I reflect on frequently, too.
Living a life of purpose is important to me, and that's one of the reasons I love Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a pan-African holiday that's observed December 26 - January 1. As a celebration, it provides guideposts for living purposefully. It celebrates African-American history and culture; embraces creativity; and encourages community. And its foundation, the Nguzo Saba or seven principles, help guide my life as well as my work as an author, publisher, and entrepreneur.
Our family has observed Kwanzaa for over 30 years. Just Us Books, the children’s book publishing company my husband Wade and I founded in 1988, has been in business for just as long. And although Kwanzaa did not directly inspire our entrepreneurial venture, I'm sure that timing is no coincidence.
The Nguzo Saba show up in our books and shape our work. We’ve published or packaged several books about Kwanzaa, including: My First Kwanzaa Book; Willimena Rules: Nine Steps to the Best, Worst, Greatest Holiday Ever! and the Kwanzaa Sticker and Activity Book. We included the principles in AFRO-BETS Kids' Book of Wisdom: Quotes from the African American Tradition. The principles are also themes in many of the books we've published. (Read more about those books here.)
As entrepreneurs, we live the Nguzo Saba of Kwanzaa year around. UJIMA (collective work and responsibility) and UJAMAA (co-operative economics) define our approach to doing business – from the stories we share in our books, to our intentional focus on employing Black writers, illustrators, editors, designers, and doing work with Black vendors such as BCP Digital, as much as possible.
Our purpose (NIA) is to bring more stories about Black people, history, and experiences to the public so the richness and diversity of Black culture is represented in the books all children read.
We use creativity (KUUMBA); self-determination (KUJICHAGULIA); and faith (IMANI) every day when working with authors and illustrators, defining our business goals, and planning for the future.
It takes unity (UMOJA) to brings all of these elements together to create books and run a company - particularly as a family business.
I believe we all have an opportunity and responsibility to identify and use our unique gifts to make positive contributions to our communities - whether cultural, local, or global. That's purpose and I'm blessed to be living in it.
Cheryl Willis Hudson is an children's book author, publisher, and co-founder of Just Us Books. Her newest title, Brave. Black. First. 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, is a collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and Penguin Random House.