Saturday, December 27, 2008

Habari Gani? Umoja at House of Unity & Youth Uprising

I had a wonderful afternoon and evening yesterday reflecting on the principles of Kwanzaa, the cultural holiday where African people gather to reflect on years past and what we can do in the coming solar cycle to strengthen our ties and build community. What in the past has, I suppose, been more a feel good kind of reunion had a distinctively different agenda last night as we gathered in small groups and talked about the future of our nation and how Kwanzaa could be used a a tool for much more than showcasing the children-the harvest, and honoring our elders--first fruits. There were flip charts spread throughout the hall and everyone was enouraged to get together in small groups to discuss topics listed on the charts or add others. I don't think I ever felt connected to new Africans like I did last night. I hope this continues as I carpool tonight and head for East Palo Alto for Kwanzaa day two.

As a person who dwells in the valley between the two ends, neither elder, nor child, I connected with quite a few Ileomede children, now adults who were ready to work with me on a number of projects dear to my heart, such as: building sustainable African communities in America and the ever pressing work around the assault on our youth, the Maafa or Black Holocaust, perpetuated by people who look like the victims. We need to stop this arrested spiritual development and help our youth evolve into higher consciousness.

I was so encouraged last night at Youth Uprising, a warmer environment than the East Oakland Youth Development Center, the site for Umoja for the past 15 years. All that time, I thought EOYDC was participating in the event. I wasn't aware that Wo'se had to pay and that it was not supported by the institution. Perhaps next year, Youth Uprising can continue to be a site, but also perhaps one of the local libraries like the one in my neighborhood, Martin Luther King Jr. Branch can provide another site as a rental so the event can stay black, but at the same time, be a part of the community which needs such cultural events more than ever.

This week and next, the public libraries are closed, a unproductive move by City of Oakland officials. What are the children going to do over the winter recess? Rudy, chair of the Black Social Workers who meet at the Eastmont library and co-hosts of the Kwanzaa at the Unity House, said we'd have to figure something out to keep the libraries open, especially Eastmont, which provides more than books to the community. With staff like my friend, Don Waters, the Eastmont Branch provides homework assistance as well as job and employment resources, a chess club, housing assistance and free legal assistance twice a month.

Ice skating is great, the second year (12/26-28) Council person Desley Brooks has offered such on Seminary Avenue in an outdoor arena, but last night at Youth Uprising we were writing, networking, creating a dialogue across generations. It would be great to connect all these events occurring in the Kwanzaa season to one another, especially those in the black community.

Last night, Baba Greg Hodge said he was passing the torch and his daughter Chanaka Hodge, did a great job facilitating the event as emcee.

Earlier that day at the House of Unity, in Eastmont Town Center, the Black Social Workers and the Eastmont Branch Library hosted a wonderful Kwanzaa celebration, Sister Geri Abrams and I performed the ceremony which was participatory. I gave everyone a blank sticky note to write their thoughts about Umoja on to share. Volunteers then shared their thoughts and added them on the sticky note to the altar.

These thoughts were: building community and family; UMOJA: Unity, what Vukani represents, what we struggled for in South Africa besides freedom, justice and peace, what Obama represents besides hope, change and a new day; peace, closeness, and friendship; keeping the ties that bind us together, keeping our own uniqueness, releasing, remembering that we are all parts of each other, needing one another; coming together to accomplish things in your life; bringing people together to make peace, not war.

Mama Geri is one of best libation pourers on this side of the country. She calls and the ancestors always arrive and hang out with us, wherever that may be, the West Oakland Branch Library at the annual African American Celebration through Poetry, the College of Alameda at the Holiday event for Student Services, or at the annual ritual at Ocean Beach each year, they come. In bare feet, she called, her voice and passion so intense, she had to take a sip of the water herself. I thought she was going to spray the alter with the liquid, which I have seen before.

QB got excited on drums as she sang a bit as she called the names of Rev. Dorsey and Bob Marley: "Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause Every little thing, is going to be all right...", "Precious Lord take my hand...".

It was great being a part of a library celebration of the "First Fruits," given our history in this country. In an interview I hosted on my radio show earlier, with Douglas Blackmon, whose book "Slavery By Another Name," looks at the untold history of the reenslavement of so many black men and women in the south just after Emancipation for at least 100 years in the mines in Alabama and other southern states, we spoke of how close historically we are to the Maafa. The reparations or repair is critically important in a climate where the criminalization of African people is still sanctioned legally.

Before it was mainly the state government which allowed municipalities to sell black prisoners for indefinite lengths of time for infractions of laws euphemistically called "black codes," legal statures which stated a black man couldn't raise his voice when speaking to a white person, especially a white woman, laws which criminalized poverty or underemployment, not having a pass issued by a white person guaranteeing housing and employments, plus debt incurred for simply being arrested, not to mention the costs of being tried. Innocence was not an issue and did not absolve these men and women of the charges.

Vukani Mawethu sang and children passed out fruit and other goodies at the House of Unity. I bought a CD with seven songs for the seven days of Kwanzaa produced by QB Williams and Thomas McKennie. The Vukani Mawethu Choir sang a few of these songs, plus QB's "Calm in the Storm," for Katrina survivors.

Later on at the evening Umoja celebration, I was given a copy of Kwanzaa: Yeni Iwe Na Heri by Mxolisi and the Sankofa Singers out this year. Visit

The photos are from both events.


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