I am a fan of black holidays. As a distinct culture within the United States, African Americans have a right – even a duty – to celebrate and reflect on our unique history and heritage. The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day. Mexicans have Cinco de Mayo; Latinx more generally have Dia de los Muertos.
(Let me be clear: I don’t want any of our holidays to disintegrate into an excuse for the average American to get weekday wasted.)
Of course there’s Black History Month, which paved the way for numerous other “history months.” We also have Kwanzaa, Dr. King’s birthday, Juneteenth and in a few cities, Maafa, which honors our ancestors who were subjected to the great calamity (that’s what maafa means in Kiswahili) known as the transatlantic slave trade. But one of my favorite black holidays is the one you probably have never heard of: February 13 – Black Love Day.
That’s right: another one of those “made-up holidays!”
Twenty-five years ago, its founder, Ayo Handy-Kendi of the African American Holiday Association, gave this gift to the black world. Similar to Kwanzaa, Black Love Day is celebrated very close to a mainstream holiday. While people debate whether Kwanzaa is in competition with Christmas, Mama Ayo makes it clear that she created Black Love Day as an alternative to Valentine’s Day, Cupid, consumerism and the one-day high stakes demonstration of romantic love.
The heart stays though. In fact, Black Love Day is how I learned that the heart shape is an Adinkra symbol from Ghana, West Africa. It is called akoma, which means heart in Twi, the most widely spoken Ghanaian language, andt’s part of Black Love Day’s customary greeting, Nya Akoma (pronounced NYEE-ah ah-KOO-ma), or “Have a heart!” (At least no one can criticize this holiday for using a language our ancestors didn’t speak).
Over the course of the day, we are encouraged to perform acts that demonstrate our love in five tenets, or core relationships:
- Love for God
- Love for self
- Love for family
- Love for community
- Love for the black race
For example, I might wake up giving thanks to my Creator in extended prayer and meditation, then fix myself a really great breakfast. I might clean out the family car or organize our shared storage unit and tell the little ones stories about our ancestors. For the community aspect, I might give a neighbor a ride to the store in that spotless family car or donate the gently used clothes and toys from the closets I organized in our home. And for our race as a whole? This year I’m switching my account (back) to our local black bank. And I’m spreading the gospel of Black Love Day with this post!
Although I’m from the same city as Mama Ayo, I didn’t hear about Black Love Day until the MySpace era. But when I did, I was instantly smitten. I was a high school senior in 1993, when the first Black Love Day took place (hey, I’ve already dated myself). I can remember well the turmoil brewing in our communities. What the world needed then (and now) was Black Love. Yes now, in our YouTube and Facebook-live melanated wokeness. Even – especially – during Black Panther Week, Black Love Day still has a purpose.
After I became aware of Black Love Day, I would post about it each year. I even have a copy of Mama Ayo’s Black Love Book somewhere in that storage unit. My first collective observance of Black Love Day was a few years ago at Community Book Center in New Orleans. It was a small but powerful event where five dynamic community leaders spoke briefly about showing love in each of the five tenets. But honestly, it’s taken me at least a decade – and this article – to give this much advance thought to how to actually demonstrate my love.
So if you have never heard of Black Love Day before, it’s okay! Take baby steps, or if you are feeling froggy, take a giant leap into the deep end of Black Love Day. Either way, take a digital stroll to the African American Holiday Association’s website to learn a little more about this special day. There’s a live discussion at noon EST, centered around this year’s theme: “Clearing Cellular Memory to find Love and Peace.” At 8 pm EST, the annual Black Love relationship ceremony will take place, and you can see that online as well.
Nya Akoma and thanks for reading!