Artist Margie ‘Mia X’ Johnson carries on Kwanzaa traditions passed on by her family’s matriarch

3 mins read

Burn a little sage, commune with the family, its a vibe. Mia X, one of Newark’s most prolific poets, keeps Kwanzaa traditions fresh and powerful as she now becomes the keeper of the African-centered custom carried on during the winter holidays.

What is the tradition? 

We celebrate Kwanzaa. Every Kwanzaa season we decorate the refrigerator. It serves as our main art exhibit during our feast. This year, the feast is at my house. But for the past 20-plus years, it’s been at my aunt’s house in Plainfield, New Jersey.

Margie Johnson with her aunt, Juanita Morrison, who introduced her to Kwanzaa celebrations in the 90s.

What do you do to carry out the tradition?

As far as decorating the refrigerator, I cut inspirational words and pictures from magazines and online to curate a special moment depending on the theme. This year I’m using pictures of eyes from our ancestors and quotes from elders about vision.

One of my favorites comes from Audre Lorde, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

I post my goals, the children’s goals and art work about how they want to feel along with our family’s mission in the new year. The goal is to make the kitchen a cultural and spiritual reminder of what we are up to in the world.

To carry out the tradition of Kwanzaa, we put our hearts and souls into embodying what the principles represent and we live to honor our ancestors and ourselves as we lift each other up in celebration and continue to build our dreams.

When we host our Kwanzaa dinner, the kitchen engages everyone and it’s beautiful.

What do you cook?

I usually make a mini-Thanksgiving: a whole chicken with homemade cornbread stuffing; collard greens with smoked meat; mac and cheese;, yams, corn on the cob, potato salad and cake. This for dinner, along with lamb samosas for appetizers. Typical Kwanzaa is always potluck.

What do you drink? 

I made a new tradition. Something I call, “Hibiscus Uptown,” which is hibiscus juice with iced tea and lemonade mixed.

What games do you play? 

We play a gift swap, do short plays and make up songs about the principles.

What do you smoke?

Sage. We need more sage in the hood.

Who comes to gatherings? 


How do you define family? 

Family is the art you create with people you love. It’s eating and laughing and making up songs. It’s dancing and looking silly and being together remembering who you’ve been all along. 

What does your family look like? 

My family is more of a vibe. I rendezvous with people who knew my mother and who my mother loved because her love lives through me and the people she touched. I create with people who are just as passionate about our children’s education and future. I break bread with visionaries, artists, creators, leaders of the new school and everybody I’m on the journey with at this time . . . My hairdresser, my homegirls, friends from near and far.

Who is considered the elder or a respected person?

My Nana, Juanita “Peaches” Morrison* is 93-years-old. She took me to my first Kwanzaa over 20 years ago. She made sure that I had some African print to tie my hair up in. Then she would spray me with perfume and make sure I had a gift for the gift swap.

When it was time to perform, she always encouraged me to read one of my poems. Kwanzaa was a time for us to show our talents.  I love this woman for everything she always knew we needed. 

I love being a part of a cultural family. She sowed seeds and we gon’ eat forever. Thank you Nanny.

Happy Kwanzaa everybody! Cheers to a beautiful vision for 2020 and beyond. Decorate your fridges!!!!

*Mia X informed Ark Republic that Aunt Peaches passed last week. She will be buried during Kwanzaa 2019. Life does come full circle 

Ark Republic is ending the year with a series of mixed-media stories of hope, empowerment, leadership, courage, brilliance family and affirmation. We want to enter into the New Year with a community collaboration called, “The Light Series.”

The Light Series is a month-long exploration of all things light and love. So, we invite you to walk with us. Even, we ask that you participate in highlighting those in your community who need some shine, or even yourself, your business or your superpower.

Our first week, December 1 to December 7, we will feature stories of innovators in our communities. Next, from December 8 to December 15, we share stories of inspiration from our entrepreneurs. Afterwards, from December 16 to December 25, we explore spiritual, religious and family traditions, as well as, winter rituals. Finally, from December 26 to January 1, we will end the series with stories of affirmation and forward movement in this next cycle, 2020.

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