Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

My First Kwanzaa

Sweet Potatoes

Written by Walker Tisdale III of, the Number One Source for Healthy Black Men

I recall my very first Kwanzaa celebration and ironically it was as an undergraduate student at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Several other African American students and I were staying on campus for the holidays and decided to get together for a pot luck dinner. The truth is money was so tight for me back then, I couldn’t afford to make the trip home and back, let alone to buy presents for family and friends. It was a hard time financially and emotionally.

So the idea of others coming together over the holiday break in an unfamiliar college town was a lifesaver. Several upperclassmen from the Detroit and Chicago area, college athletes, and me totaled about nearly twenty. The holiday potluck somehow transitioned to a Kwanzaa celebration. I’d grown up celebrating Christmas in the home and while I knew of Kwanzaa from books and friends, I had never really experienced Kwanzaa.

Getting close to the holidays, I learned about the principles of Kwanzaa, especially the first of seven days—Umoja (unity), meaning to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, etc. Even now I think how ironic that uniting with fellow students over the holiday break would reinforce the idea of unity.

Of course, on Christmas day while not at home, I called my family and shared our day but I was also looking forward to the first day of Kwanzaa, my contribution would be sweet potato pie. Not only was it the one dish I could easily make but it aligned with the contributions Africans originally brought to the USA.

Imagine twenty students from all disciplines, some friends, some of us were new friends and as we gathered at the dining hall, I recall it was adorned with a table of candles, gourds, African-inspired table settings, red, black, and green was everywhere. And guys from the football and boxing team were drumming. It was very different than anything I ever experienced and I felt at home. There was warmth from the environment and from one another. Not to be sappy, while I wasn’t with my biological family, it was like I was with family. I never forgot that holiday, my first Kwanzaa but not my last.

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

1 pound sweet potato
1/2-cup butter, softened
1/2-cup of natural orange juice
1/4-cup white sugar
1/4-cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-9 inch unbaked pie crust

1. Boil large sweet potato whole in skin for 45 to 60 minutes, or until done.
2. When done, run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.
3. Break apart sweet potato in a bowl.
4. Add butter, and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, juice, egg, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla.
5. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth.
6. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.
7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
8. When done, let pie stand cool for 20 minutes.

Walker Tisdale III, Founder and Editor of

Walker Tisdale III is the Founder and Editor of, an online health and lifestyle magazine for black men.

Mr. Tisdale is a former television journalist and public health policy analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, he’s worked at the NYC Health Department, Chicago Department of Public Health, Alzheimer’s Association, and other health agencies. A longtime health advocate for African Americans and African American men, Walker joined several peers and other bloggers to launch in 2010.

A devout lover of german chocolate cake and butter pecan ice cream, Walker Tisdale enjoys swimming, traveling, jazz music, and comedy movies. He lives in Atlanta, GA. Follow him on twitter @BlkMenUSA and Facebook/Healthy Black Men.

About Sanura

Art Director/Senior Graphic Designer at Food Writer at


This entry was posted on December 2, 2011 by in 2011, business, Personal Story, Recipe, Ujamaa and tagged , , , , , .

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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