- Socialist activist and black nationalist
- Founder of the militant black power organization United Slaves
- In 1971 was arrested for assaulting and torturing two female members of his organization
- Professor and chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach
- Has spoken at the Socialist Scholars Conference
- Creator of the 'African American' holiday Kwanzaa
Born Ron Everett in July 1941, Professor Maulana Karenga has been Chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, since 1989. An activist and Marxist, Karenga is best known for having created the holiday Kwanzaa in 1966. "People think it's African, but it's not," he said about his holiday in an interview quoted in the Washington Post. "I came up with Kwanzaa because black people in this country wouldn't celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that's when a lot of bloods would be partying." In the mid-1960s, he gave himself the title “Maulana,” Swahili for “master teacher,” and is now widely referred to simply as Maulana Karenga.
Professing a devotion to combating “systemic racism,” Karenga began his foray into black nationalism in the early 1960s, founding the militant black power organization United Slaves (US) to "provid[e] a philosophy, a set of principles and a program which inspire a personal and social practice that not only satisfies human need but transforms people in the process, making them self-conscious agents of their own life and liberation.”
A number of United Slaves members, among them Karenga, have served prison time for various crimes including murder. In 1969, US was involved in a disagreement with the Black Panthers regarding two candidates who were vying for a directorial position at UCLA’s newly created Afro-American Studies Center. US backed one contender, while the Black Panthers supported another. The dispute ended when two US members shot and killed two members of the Black Panthers.
In 1971, Karenga and US members Louis Smith and Luz Maria Tamayo were convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment for having tortured two female US members, Gail Davis and Deborah Jones. Following Karenga's subsequent incarceration in a California State prison, US temporarily disbanded before being reestablished by Karenga in 1975.
Notwithstanding the track record of disputes between US and the Black Panthers, Karenga once spoke at an event that featured Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale -- the 17th annual Black Consciousness Conference in 1996.
In 1977 Karenga devised a cultural philosophy called Kawaida, a Swahili term for "tradition" and "reason," from which the holiday Kwanzaa arose. Karenga billed Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. He asked his followers to follow the seven “principles” of Kwanzaa, known as the “Nguzu Saba,” or the “Seven Principles of Blackness,” which are observed during the seven days of Kwanzaa. The principles are as follows:
- 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"
In summation, Karenga’s “Seven Principals of Blackness” are the Marxist precepts of parity and proletariat unity. In a 2002 article, Ann Coulter observed further that the seven principles of Kwanzaa are identical to those of the 1970s domestic terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army.
A self-proclaimed “African socialist,” Karenga has said: “One of the most urgent challenge[s] … of our time is the reconstruction of U.S. social policy ... making the U.S. a just and good society in a multicultural and global context. What we have to do in this talking, this ethical vision, has first of all to be separated from the right-wing insistence on morality.”
In 1998 Karenga and United Slaves issued a statement in support of "the Cuban people in their heroic and historic struggle to defend their right of self-determination and to break out of the unjust and immoral economic boycott by the U.S. government."
In Karenga's calculus, capitalism was the cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He writes that “... it is not the material goods some of us have that they [Muslims] hate the U.S. for, but for attempts to impose the materialism of a consumerist society on them, to turn them into homogenized consumers of a McWorld system. And perhaps it is not that they are against freedom and justice and related values, but against the U.S.-imposed interpretation of this. Perhaps, they resent the arrogance of imposition and the inequities imposed by a globalism that grinds them underfoot and denies them a right of self-determination and security that we say are indispensable to us and our allies.”
In a separate assessment of 9/11, Karenga said: "[W]e might discover ... that [the hijackers] did it to: (1) avenge years of state terrorism, mass murder, selective assassination, collective punishment and other forms of oppression by the U.S. and its allies; (2) to demonstrate vulnerability of the U.S. at its crucial centers of power ...; (3) to cause the rulers of the country to fear, to be uncertain and to reverse the role of hunter and hunted; (4) to insist on being heard and considered in human, political and military terms; (5) to demonstrate a capacity to strike regardless of the superior strength and technology of the U.S.; and (6) to dramatize and underline in a highly visible way the asymmetry of suffering between the U.S. and the oppressed in the world."
Karenga has been an outspoken critic of the War in Iraq and the larger War on Terror. In an April 2003 event at Cal State, he called the Iraq War an exercise in "self-aggrandizement" by the U.S. On another occasion he characterized it as “part of a post-9/11 imperial offensive which carries with it racist and colonial conversations and commitments of ‘crusades’ to protect ‘the civilized world’ against ‘dark and evil nations’ in ‘dark corners of the world.’”
Karenga holds two Ph.D.s -- one in Political Science, with a focus on the theory and practice of nationalism (obtained from the United States International University), and one in Social Ethics, with a focus on the classical African ethics of ancient Egypt (obtained from the University of Southern California). He also holds an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa.
Karenga has been a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference, which is held each year by the City University of New York’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Past speakers and panel members have included Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky, Ron Dellums, Stanley Aronowitz, John Bellamy Foster, Jerrold Nadler, and Major Owens.
Karenga has authored such books as Introduction to Black Studies, the most widely used introductory text in Black Studies, and Kawaida: A Communitarian African Philosophy. He has received numerous awards, including the National Leadership Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievements in Black Studies from the National Council for Black Studies, and the Pioneer Award from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund.