By Tai Amri Spann-Wilson
Jan 2, 2017
Habari Gani! (What's the News in Swahili, the greeting during Kwanzaa)
Christmas Day in Willingboro, South Jersey - right outside of Philadelphia - was spent recovering from the road trip from Lawrence, Kansas and gearing up for the first day of Kwanzaa, the Principle Umoja. No gifts, no tree, barely any Christmas songs, we didn't even cook, just ordered some bomb Indian food. No, today is the day. We got soul and blues music blasting in the kitchen while the collards simmer and the sweet potato pie cools in the back room. Mama is making her African dishes, peanut stew and the like, the Kinara is waiting to be lit, libations are waiting to be poured, and in about 45 minutes, friends and family arrive with their non-tangible, non-capitalistic gifts to be shared. What I'm trying to say is, this is the most Black Lit season I've ever had.
Don't get me wrong, I love Jesus, but this year called for something a little more (r)evolutionary. I got my 10 month old daughter, Alanna Naledi, strapped to my chest while she gets some rest so she can beat whatever cold she's trying not to catch and not be so cranky for all the folk she gets to meet for the first time, and I want her to know that Christmas can be white and Kwanzaa can be Black, it's all good.
The year 2016 needs Kwanzaa, because the year 2016 has been #woke but it's also been #problematic on all sides of the fence. Umoja, the first principle of Unity out of the 7 Principles and days of Kwanzaa, has been one of the most lacking of principles in the world. True, some Black folk have come together, some white folk have joined the fight who weren't a part of it before, but in other ways there has been more division in 2016 than ever before. So this year, I wanted to write on the principles of Kwanzaa as a meditation, a dedication, to what's real. Let me tell a little story about Unity:
Umoja: The (R)Evolution is Unity
In the Black community there has always been a struggle for unity, since we got to this land we've had to deal with the different languages and different ways of doing things. During the Civil Rights Movement, this struggle continued. Our ancestors, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, had to deal with their own struggle to be unified. Dr. King was a fiery, gun-toting, southern preacher when he met Rustin, a communist sympathizing, gay, Quaker pacifist. Because of Rustin's knowledge of Gandhian nonviolent activism, King needed him. But because they were so effective together, the counterrevolution sought to tear them apart. They told King that if he continued to work with Rustin they would start a commie/gay rumor. In fear of the movement, King was forced to deny Rustin and Bayard was forced to the sidelines. That was, until March on Washington needed someone with Rustin's skill. When it was time to march, Rustin stood up and so did King. Now, King could have given into his homophobia and said there was no way that he could work with Rustin's brand of radicalism and intersectionality, and Rustin could have said that King wasn't intersectional enough for him, that in order for him to work with King, King would have to acknowledge his ignorance publicly. But they realized that not only what they were fighting was bigger than their own individualism, but also that they needed each other. So they unified.
Let's move forward to the inception of the Black Panther party. Many of us know that the counterrevolution helped to bring them down with a mixture of drugs, infiltration and violence. But the lies may have been the most insidious weapon against them. Once people start to see their brothers and sisters as potential enemies, the battle is all but lost. Of course there are always going to be informants in the movement, but it is actually the fear of informants that causes so much disunity within the movement.
Let's move ahead one more place to the Occupy Movement. In Oakland's Occupy Movement I saw it with my own eyes, the fear that someone was a police officer made it impossible to trust and impossible to work together. But the truth of the matter is this, informants can be turned, it happens all the time. Letting go of fear and hatred and moving in unity and love is the greatest weapon against infiltrators, because in unity and love and acceptance, infiltrators realize that they are on the wrong side of the movement.
I look today at our own movements, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the No DAPL/Mni Wiconi Movements, and I see how important Unity is. We can spend our time infighting, outfighting, labelling some enemies and some comrades, but it is disunity that will bring down the struggle for freedom.
This is why, on this day, I choose to never allow anyone to sow and water seeds of discord between me and others. I will not accept claims of who I should and shouldn't work with and will not align myself with counterrevolutionary divisiveness. I will work on creating a culture of calling people into Unity rather than calling them out of disunity, and invite all to stand on this principle Blackness with me. May it be so. Ashe.
Kujichagulia: I Define Myself!
Habari Gani! The rain is falling in South Jersey as I write on my phone next to my sleeping family. I'm cared to look at the kitchen at the carcasses of the dishes we devoured on our first night of Kwanzaa, but excited to walk through the echoes of songs, poems and stories shared, kisses, hugs and praises. I'm reflecting on the second principle of Kwanzaa on this second day, Kujichagulia, which means self-determination.
I've heard it said that people will become what we define them as. If someone is defined as a kind and smart person by others than that is what they will become, if someone is defined as a monster then that is what they will become. Well, in my life I've been defined in many ways. What most comes to mind of course is the negative. When I was younger, a lot of my Black peers didn't like how I talked or acted. They would say I was an Oreo, Black on the outside but white in the middle. While it hurt, it mostly was confusing, because even if I didn't talk like them, I was still effected by the acts of racism which was New Jersey in the '90's. I still looked for truth in hip hop. I still locked up my hair and I was still Black.
Interestingly, recently I was told that someone had called me an Uncle Tom, all because I don't yell on FaceBook at business owners in the town I live in who haven't written a letter of solidarity to the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. First off, anyone who knows me knows that yelling at people is not really in my spirit. The hearing of this news hit me in a strange way, the 5 year old Tai Amri was probably still hurt by the news, but 36 year old Tai Amri's basic self was mad and wanting to fight. Like, say that to my face and watch what happens, I'll show you Uncle Tom. 36 year old Tai Amri's Highest Self however thought, "Who cares, just keep being your Highest Self."
Now maybe if I didn't have the Highest Self voice, I would revert to my basic self to find the person and show them how loud I can yell. Or if I didn't have the basic knowledge of self I could take those words as my definition, say to myself that I don't belong in the Black world, it won't accept me and I should stop trying. And then I wouldn't be calling people together to meditate on the principles of Kwanzaa, I wouldn't be helping to build African altars, calling to remember Black ancestors, reciting poems of love to the Black Lives that I love around the country, reminding people on who's backs we stand on and to helping people to understand the African deities of the Yoruba people and the teachings of African priest Malidoma Somé. But no see, I know who I am and I know I get to define myself, and I am a Black freedom fighter and my ONLY weapon is love.
And when people try and tell me that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a misguided movement, filled with negativity and misguided anger, I will tell them no, I AM Black Lives Matter, and I am filled with the love and pain of my ancestors. We are the Actors and Co-Creators of our reality, nothing comes into being without us. Don't let anyone else decide what you are, throughout every fiber of my bones my ancestors tell and remind me of my Ashe, which is, my Power To Be. Ashe.
Ujima: True Solidarity
Habari Gani! No sleeping in with Alanna Naledi today, she was ready! Apparently spending the morning at the Please Touch Museum in Philly, celebrating Kwanzaa with a performance by the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble and then walking around West Philly's Drexel campus for several hours with Aunt Mignon didn't tire her out like it did Mama and Papa. Now I'm left with an achy back and she wants to bang baby food jars together. That's how it goes huh?
Today is the Kwanzaa Principle Ujima, Collective Work and Responsibility. This concept is best reflected in the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." This phrase has increased in popularity throughout the years but its observance is actually lacking. I mean, when's the last time you saw a village actually raising a child? Even orphans in this country mostly become wards of the state and live their lives in residential facilities run by state employees.
When I was in high school, I was a part of a group of Christians who thought our only responsibility was to save souls from hell. We didn't care about feeding people's bellies or making sure they had adequate housing and wages. We only cared about the soul. Then, when I graduated, I discovered that Christians didn't have a lock on doing good in the world. I realized that Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists were responsible for much of the justice movements in the world and the Christians were responsible for much of the degradation. And so I sought not just to be a good Christian but to actually change that which was unjust in my community and in this global society.
I also realized that if I was going to change this world I had to take responsibility for the harm that has been committed. I learned of the femicide in Juarez, Mexico and realized that sexism had created hostile and violent environments for women and who were the main perpetrators? Men. So if femicide and misogyny were going to end, who would have to be the one to end it? Men. That I saw as my responsibility. I could no longer just sit back and watch as women marched to end misogyny and sexism, I had to be in solidarity.
Right now in the Black Lives Matter movement where I live, there is a lot of emphasis placed on Letters of Solidarity from business for Black Lives Matter Movement and its intersectionalities. But true solidarity is more than a letter, it means standing with pain and oppression so that it becomes your pain and oppression. It means that if my sister or brother is being oppressed then I have to stand next to them because their oppression becomes linked to my own.
My Sister, Angela Davis, reminds us of how oppressions are linked in her new book, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. She reminds us that we have to see the local and the global linked, and so I end today's reflection with a quote from her book. She writes, "The militarization of the police leads us to think about Israel and the militarization of the police there--if only the images of the police and not the demonstrators had been shown, one might have assumed that Ferguson was Gaza." This is what we have to fight against, a universal threat of violence calls for a universal village of Freedom Fighters. May it be so. Ashe.
Ujamaa: $upport Your Local (R)Evolution
"We've got to strengthen Black institutions." - Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Kwanzaa Day Four: Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics)
#kwanzaa2016 #7principles #ujamaa #bankblack #buyblack
KUUMBA: Make Something Unforgettable
Habari Gani! I spent my last night in South Jersey/Philly listening to a hip hop journey with my brother, an emcee named Mai Sankofa, while my daughter Alanna Naledi played different percussion instruments on the floor and my mother and Alanna's mother took a Kundalini class with my Aunt Mimi down the street. We were going through what he thought I should know and take home with me when we stopped on one of this top 5, an artist named Oddisee. I was asking him if he was going to get a big record contract sometime when he said, "Nah, he doesn't want one, he says he's good. He got a family and he making money and he doesn't want to get bigger." I couldn't really say anything to that. I am perpetually a hater of radio rap unless it's a great mind like Kendrick or Nas or something. But still, I had no words for this. My subconscious did though.
I was laying in my bed, having a good time watching my dreams, until around 4 AM I had one filled with hip hop and samurais and ninjas. One side was the samurai and one side the ninja, I can't really tell you who was who, but my samurai mind says that probably the true heads were represented by the samurai, because they at least had some honor, even though they stole and pillaged like the good militaristic class they represented, but ninjas, ninjas were said to have no code. My ninja mind says that the distinctions were built upon class, the samurai being a "noble" class while the ninja being of lower class, as such, the code was built upon privilege and exploitation and the ninjas did whatever they had to to survive, which sounds exactly like hip hop to me. In the end, this is why I don't get down with one side vs the other side, because all paths lead to God OR the devil. At any rate, I was find watching my mind's movie until one of the characters said, "They want to make the movement forgettable." What was that supposed to mean? I didn't know, but trying to figure it out just took me completely out of the dream until this point right now, where as you can see, I'm sitting in the bathroom at 4:12 AM trying to write down my thoughts because I'm afraid I might lose them.
They want to make the Movement Forgettable. Oddisee doesn't though, Oddisee knows what will happen. They want to make The Movement forgettable. How do they do that? They take away our creativity. I knew before I even started this meditation on the Kwanzaa Principles that this was going to be the one where I talked about the empire and how it has struck back by "electing" a mad man and how we can't use the master's tools of division no more, but how we need to bring out the heavy artillery of unification and underground collaboration like never before. And then this dream, They want to make the Movement Forgettable. That's what has been done over and over again, that's what's being done right now. From the Black Power Movement to the Flint Water Crisis to Standing Rock, from the Dakota Pipeline to the School to Prison Pipeline, they want to make the Movement Forgettable.
Nia: Everyone Must LIVE Their Purpose
Habari Gani! Alanna Naledi has been running me around with her tired hyper activity since arriving at my father's house in Ann Arbor. That's how she is after 10 hours in the car, just wanting to run around in circles, because she slept most of the ride. But it means that it isn't until after she crashes and I am on the verge myself that I can write this.
I've been thinking all day about today's principle though, the principle of Nia, our purpose. I think of priest Malidoma Some of the Dagar tribe in Burkina Faso in Western Africa. He teaches that everyone comes into the world with a purpose, and that the elders ask that purpose while the child is still in the womb, so that they can prepare the path for that purpose. Malidoma also says that all evil action comes out of the forgetting of one's purpose. Furthermore, when this evil action occurs, it is considered the responsibility of the community to right the wrong by bringing individuals back to their true and original purposes. It is for this reason that we must always remember and live out our purposes and help others so that we can re-member the lost. May it be so. Ashe.
Imani: Belief In One's Ancestors
Habari Gani! We just got home from Alanna Naledi's first Quaker Meeting for Worship in Michigan with my dad. Dad's in the kitchen trying to finish up the Harambee cake he makes every year, a three layered cake with red, white and yellow layers and a brown icing to represent the four races of humans. Harambee is Swahili for "All pull together" and is the motto of Kenya. The cake is something he's made every year of my life to teach us that in order to survive and thrive, all races must come together.
Today's principle, Imani, is the principle symbolizing faith. Most people think this means faith and belief in God, but the Kwanzaa principle is more about faith and belief in one another. We know already that hatred is on the rise in this world, but we must believe that there is something beyond that, or else getting through it will never be possible. I know that my ancestors had to have this kind of faith or they would never have survived the horrors of MAAFA, the Middle Passage where so many of my ancestors were tortured and murdered before even reaching the "New World" where more of them were tortured and murdered.