The Father of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga and his wife, Tiamoyo Karenga Celebrate 50 Years of the African American Observance

Reel Urban Images Photo Exclusive:

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa, the African American holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1, was recently captured in a series of exclusive photos taken by photographer Otis Mitchell for Reel Urban Images. Dr. Karenga and his wife, Tiamoyo Karenga were in attendance of an event held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa being interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa being interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

It is estimated that nearly 18 million African Americans participate in the observance of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, nor is it meant to replace Christmas. It was created by Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga, a professor of Black Studies, in 1966. At this time of great social change for African Americans, Karenga sought to design a celebration that would honor the values of ancient African cultures and inspire African Americans who were working for progress.

Dr. Maulana Karehga, Founder of Kwanzaa pictured with attorney Alphonso Kimbell. DTLA Photo: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa pictured w/L.A. based Attorney Alphonso Kimbell. DTLA Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

Dr. Maulana Karenga is professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He holds two Ph.D.’s; his first in political science with focus on the theory and practice of nationalism (United States International University) and his second in social ethics with a focus on the classical African ethics of ancient Egypt (University of Southern California). Professor Karenga is the foremost exponent of Maatian ethical thought, having developed over the last three decades, a creative and scholarly Kawaida interpretation of ancient Egyptian ethical thought as a living tradition and a useful philosophical option for critical reflection on the urgent issues of our time. His second dissertation, a major work of 803-pages titled Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics, and submitted in 1996, was the most requested work from UMI out of 45,000 dissertations and theses worldwide of that year. Published as a book in 2002, it has received praise from the Africana Studies and Egyptological communities as a seminal and defining work which has opened up a valuable new dialog with ancient Egyptian thought and culture.

Dr. Maulana Karehga, Found of Kwanzaa being interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa being interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

An activist-scholar of national and international recognition, Dr. Karenga has had a far-reaching effect on Black intellectual and political culture since the 1960s. Through his organizational and intellectual work, and his philosophy, Kawaida, he has played a vanguard role in shaping the Black Arts Movement, Black Studies, the Black Power Movement,  the Black Student Union Movement, Afrocentricity, ancient Egyptian studies and the study of ancient Egyptian culture as an essential part of Black Studies, Ifa ethical studies, rites of passage programs, the Independent Black School Movement, African life-cycle ceremonies, the Simba Wachanga Youth Movement, Black theological and ethical discourse, and the Reparations Movement.

Dr. Maulana Karehga, Founder of Kwanzaa interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa interviewed by Michael Reel, Reel Urban News. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

Moreover, he is the executive director of the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies, Los Angeles, and national chairman of The Organization Us, a cultural and social change organization, so named to stress the communitarian focus of the organization. Dr. Karenga has also played a key role in national united front efforts, serving on the founding and executive committee of the Black Power Conferences of the 60’s, the National Black United Front, the National African American Leadership Summit, the Black Leadership Retreat, the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO), and on the executive council of the national organizing committee of the Million Man March/Day of Absence, as well as authored the Mission Statement for this joint project.

Tiamoro Karenga, observing Dr. Karenga being interviewed. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Tiamoyo Karenga, observing Dr. Karenga during interview. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

Tiamoyo Karenga is a lecturer at the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies, Los Angeles, and a member of the Board of Directors of the African American Cultural Center (Us). She has worked in the Black Freedom Movement and in various capacities in the organization Us since the 60’s, serving as: chair of the Legal and Third World Issues Committees, and teacher in the Kawaida School of African American Culture. She is also a Seba (moral teacher) in the ancient Egyptian tradition of Maat (Kawaida). Administrative assistant and wife of Dr. Maulana Karenga, she has worked with him on national projects such as the National Black Power Conferences, the National Black United Front, and the Million Man March/Day of Absence and on various international pan-African projects.

Dr. Maulana Karehga and Michael Reel chat following our interview. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images
Dr. Maulana Karenga and Michael Reel chat following our interview. Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

Deeply concerned with women issues, she is also a member of the Senut Society (Us), the International Black Women’s Congress and the National Council of Negro Women. She holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Ancient African Archaeology and Black Studies from California State University-Long Beach.  She is currently co-authoring with Dr. Karenga a book on the moral texts and moral status of ancient Egyptian women.

Photo Credit: Otis Mitchell/Reel Urban Images

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