The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa, with Wendy Shenefelt

In this episode we interview Wendy Shenefelt, an educator and nonprofit programs director, about the seven principles of Kwanzaa and the practice of self-reflection. Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of family, community, and culture that takes place from December 26 – January 1. It’s an African-American and pan-African holiday, but people from all backgrounds are welcomed to join in the celebration. Wendy shares how Kwanzaa’s seven principles can inspire reflections on personal values and intentional living – during the holiday and throughout the year.

We finish up the year — and the decade! — with the segment “I used to … but now I,” in which we each share three ways in which we’ve evolved between 2009 and 2019. We’d love to hear yours!



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The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa

Melia’s husband, Darren, had the great idea to interview Wendy Shenefelt on Semi-Together. She’s someone Melia and Darren have known and loved in Jackson for years, and last December he noticed that every day on social media for a week, she was posting a reflection about a principle of Kwanzaa.

We had heard of Kwanzaa but hadn’t known much about it. It turns out that its principles are very much aligned with personal and community development and can help guide the way we live, even if we grew up with different traditions.

A bit about Wendy: she grew up in a multiracial family in Little Rock and Memphis and inherited a passion for civil rights, social justice, and the arts from her parents. She is a former teacher and has worked as a consultant and staff member for nonprofit organizations including the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Children’s Defense Fund. She is now the Program Director for Alternate Roots, supporting original artists who are making art that’s rooted in their communities.

Photo via Alternate Roots

Wendy attended her first Kwanzaa celebration with friends when she was in college. She explains that while it’s now come to light that one of the creators of Kwanzaa is a problematic person, she chooses to celebrate the principles of Kwanzaa and not the creator.

Wendy’s birthday is also in the fall, and she celebrates it as the start of her new year. She spends the last two months of the year reflecting on what the previous year looked like and what she wants the next one to be. Kwanzaa falls at the end of this process, and Wendy sees it as a way to recenter herself and focus on the way she wants to show up in the world

Each year, she tries to reflect on each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa as a way to live her values more intentionally. Wendy describes the principles and how they help her reflect on her beliefs and actions – during the holiday and throughout the year.

  1. Umoja – Unity
  2. Kujichagulia – Self-determination
  3. Ujima – Collective work and responsibility
  4. Ujamma – Cooperative economics
  5. Nia – Purpose
  6. Kuumba Creativity
  7. Imani – Faith

Note: Wendy mentions a historic event that just happened in our country. We recorded this episode the day after the House of Representatives voted on articles of impeachment. Here’s a helpful graphic on how impeachment works via Mississippi Votes.

Steal This Tip

Wendy spends a lot of time on the road for work, and she shares a travel-related Steal This Tip: If you travel a lot in your car, forget about packing light. It’s not necessary! Pack the little comforts that feel like home and help you take care of your health and well-being – from real glasses to drink out of to your own pillow to sleep on.

I used to…but now I…

Because we’re ending both a year and a decade, we’re doing a segment called “I used to…but now I…”

It’s a great exercise for answering the question that we asked in Episode 3: Have I Evolved? Spoiler alert: you have, even if it seems like you haven’t.


  • I used to insist on doing everything in the most affordable or DIY way possible… But now I am ok with throwing money at the problem when it makes sense.
  • I used to “hustle for worthiness,” as Brené Brown says… But now I am working on recognizing and changing my perfectionist and people-pleasing tendencies.
  • I used to have a plan for where I’d be in 10 years… But now I know life can take surprising turns.


  • I used to be quick to judge … But now I’m more compassionate.
  • I used to get stuck in problems … But now I believe that everything is figureoutable.
  • I used to have all or nothing thinking … But now I aim for small, incremental changes.

Get In Touch

How can you use the principles of Kwanzaa for self-reflection in your own life? How do you celebrate family, community, and culture during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year? Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com, or send us a voice memo. You can also leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram.

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