The Republican National Committee issued a statement marking the start of Kwanzaa on Thursday, offering best wishes to those observing the African heritage holiday at the end of a year in which the party said it needed to prioritize outreach in the black community.
“I want to extend my best wishes to all who are celebrating Kwanzaa,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in the statement. “For families coming together to mark the occasion, I hope it is a joyous time of celebration with loved ones–and a time of meaningful reflection ahead of the New Year.”
Party Co-Chairman Sharon Day added: “From December 26 through January 1, many families will take time to celebrate African culture and history. Kwanzaa is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to honor the importance of family and community, and it reminds us of the great diversity in America. Happy Kwanzaa!”
A spokesman told TheBlaze that the RNC has put out Kwanzaa statements in the past, though didn’t issue one last year. The RNC has regularly put out statements marking Christmas and Hanukkah.
The RNC was very public this year about its need to reach out to black and Hispanic communities after its 2012 election “autopsy.” In October, Priebus announced the hiring of Orlando Watson as the RNC’s communications director for black media.
It hasn’t been entirely smooth: Earlier this month, the RNC was forced to clarify an embarrassing tweet about Rosa Parks that suggested racism had ended completely.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 to “reaffirm and restore” observers’ “rootedness in African culture.” Its founder, Maulana Karenga, was convicted of felony assault charges in 1971 after a member of his black nationalist group, Organization Us, testified that he tortured her and another woman. According to a 2006 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, news accounts vary as to whether Karenga served four or five years in prison.
Karenga, now the chair of the Africana Studies department at California State University, Long Beach, told religion site Beliefnet in a 2000 interview that Kwanzaa is a “cultural holiday” that celebrates family, community and culture.
“Of all the good which came out of the black freedom movement, both its civil rights and black power phases, Kwanzaa stands as a unique heritage and cultural institution. It is this institution as a definitive and enduring carrier of culture which has kept the ’60s struggles and achievements as a living tradition,” Karenga said.
The Democratic National Committee offered its own well wishes for Kwanzaa on Thursday, tweeting out a greeting from President Barack Obama: “Best wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season.” — @BarackObama.”