Kwanzaa Reflections 2016


It seems I go into Kwanzaa every year in a state of unrest–some sense of blah for the entire holiday season coupled with the increased incidents of injustice and abuse of power between law enforcement and people of color.  Add to that some stirrings about Dr. Malauna Karenga’s alleged role in counterintelligence within the Civil Rights Movement, and I am once again left questioning my resolve and commitment to observing this holiday.  Still, my congregation went ahead with the service as planned, and surprisingly, I didn’t have to lift a finger to organize the karamu feast this year.  The grant program used last year was employed and implemented by the congregation’s President, so all I had to do was gather readers and materials for the service component. I wound up reading the vast majority of the parts again, though I did have a few volunteers.  It was my fault entirely that I didn’t connect with some of them, but again, everything went well, even with the minor hiccups that we were able to bridge with technology–being the absence of our organist and the ingenious use of my smartphone, YouTube app and the Bluetooth speaker donated to the church. (I had forgotten about 2016 being the 50th year of observance, but since centuries and millennia usually begin in the following year, maybe I can do something with that milestone for next year.) One poignant moment for me was coaxing my father to read the Farewell Statement. My father, who prefers not to participate in the Kwanzaa festivities and literally chortled as I gave him the card to read, actually agreed to do so. (As with all of the cards, I spelled out the Swahili words in English phonetics to make things easier.) And he did a beautiful, stirring job reading it.  My mood was actually lifted by the depth of sincerity in his reading, and after the service he told me that the words choked him up while he was reading, and he was just as moved.  Out of anything, this is the one goal I have in doing the Kwanzaa observance: that all those present will feel connected and moved by all of the ceremony and ritual.  I think that was successful, as we had guests to our services who had not experienced Kwanzaa before that mentioned how much they enjoyed the service.

Just as I did last year, my project goals went unrealized. But I am definitely determined to complete them this year, and as we are still with the first few days of the New Year, I intend to write out a detailed plan complete with target dates and resource information so that this time next year I can refrain from typing these same promises.  In my personal observances, I was able to attend a community Kwanzaa event hosted by one of my friends, which I unfortunately had to leave early due to an unexpected, last-minute scheduling of overtime at my job.  Next year (or the end of this year, as it were), I intend to put in vacation time for that week to ensure that I have the entire night to myself.  I will reluctantly look into the accusations levied toward Dr. Karenga; however, despite any actions its creator may or may not have taken, the greater meaning of Kwanzaa’s principles give me a base to pause, reflect and re-center in order to go forth into the New Year a stronger, better person, and as such I will reclaim the holiday for myself and continue to observe it.

My delay in writing my observations comes on a devastating note this year–my former pastor, under whom we began observing Kwanzaa and added a spark of life to our congregation, had a massive heart attack and passed away at the tender age of 49. (It may be 48, as his birthday was in February.) He and I had grown very close during his role as pastor of our church and I considered him “the annoying older brother I never wanted, but was glad I got.” He listened to many of my troubles and even sat for hours with me in the emergency room as I waited for my then-boyfriend (now husband) to be treated for a severe asthma attack. I was bad at phone calls and he was bad at Facebook, but I took it for granted that I would have time to call and visit and check in…and, as life usually goes, I put it off until later.  It has taken me all week to push past my grief long enough to return to my Kwanzaa reflections, and even now I’m still raw.  I am greatly saddened that his is the first name to be added to the callout list for next year’s service–this will definitely be a test to meet year’s end laughing and stronger, because right now my heart is shattered.  I will have to call on every principle in order to get there…here’s hoping I will.


VIDEO: “Kwanzaa is a Joke with Jessica Williams & Phoebe Robinson” | YouTube

I was all set to go in on this, especially in light of the allegations I’ve recently heard regarding Dr. Karenga and the civil rights counterintelligence efforts. But I did watch the whole thing and I was pleased with the attention given. It’s a simplistic introduction to the holiday, and I encourage you to take a look.

Kwanzaa Reflections 2015


My reflections begin with noting how difficult it is to continually generate enthusiasm to keep going every year. The fact that I never got around to writing 2014’s reflections is telling enough. Additional upheaval in my personal life certainly didn’t help either. And the unusual number of cold snaps in our area that killed the Kwanzaa plant–pot and all–was not a great omen. (Neither was the unexpected premature death of the replacement plant IN A PROTECTIVE GREENHOUSE….) If ever a year needed to begin with refocusing and re-centering on our historical greatness and future potential, this was definitely it. The unrest in Ferguson, MO catalyzed by the Michael Brown case and the continued tensions in New York City have sparked an atmosphere of protest and  polarizing viewpoints about the vast inequities in race relations. One would think in these times we as a community would embrace something that encourages a sense of pride, self-worth and unity…..but not only does it seem that we can’t come together in the face of so much vitriolic disdain, so many continue to dismiss and even mock the observance of Kwanzaa itself. I saw a post that angered me in my Kwanzaa web search this season–there was a parade scheduled somewhere in California (Los Angeles, I think) that petered out after maybe 10 minutes due to “lack of public interest.” Disappointing, of course, but what made me angry was the writer’s condescension, mocking the organizers’ efforts to push this “fake, made-up holiday.” I can understand and respect someone not wishing to participate in or celebrate Kwanzaa due to a lack of understanding or even interest, but that dig was unnecessary….and, considering the presence on the calendar and in the public esteem of such “fake, made-up holidays” as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and New Year’s Eve, wholly unjustified as an argument. I already have to face my own issues increasing participation in our New Year’s Day service; people will plan huge celebrations that revolve around staying up late and watching a clock tick down to midnight but asking for a gathering to celebrate entering that new year and committing to ideals to maximize its potential bounties is deemed ridiculous. It continues to annoy me how much resistance there is to even learn even a little something about Kwanzaa, or try to make it relatable to them. Our church’s celebration is certainly not typical, as we manage to blend a deliberately non-religious observance with our Christian faith. But we manage to embrace and hold true to both.

As always, many of the plans I have to expand our celebration’s scope and outreach have yet to be realized. I did procure a small grant this year to assist with our festivities but circumstances arose where the funds did not arrive in time to mount the larger plans. Still, we were able to put on an abbreviated version of our already written ceremony which, with the exception of our pastor leading the Harambee salute, I did all of the readings for. Admittedly, my mood was just as ho-hum as those I rail about as I put things together.  But there’s just something about reading the words and noting the meaning and intention behind the symbols and principles that always motivates and re-energizes me…and even without the planned fellowship after service, I felt encouraged to plan better for next year and to implement the principles of the Nguzo Saba in my daily life.

2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Maulana Karenga’s creation of Kwanzaa–an excellent opportunity to meet in larger numbers and face the New Year laughing and stronger. I have so many projects I want to finish–my Kwanzaa service book, a local Ujamaa directory featuring community businesses (a “Black Pages” If you will), a Kuumba Festival on the last Sunday of the year that will spotlight the artistic endeavors and rich cultural heritage our people enjoy…or should enjoy. And celebrate. Hopefully, next year’s report will see me successful at achieving those goals with determination, dedication…and a little luck.

Kwanzaa; Our Culture & Why We Celebrate it Every Year |

Does Kwanzaa clash with the black church? | theGrio

I actually found this link before I decided to include the Christian parallel in my own posts this year….so it seems most appropriate to share it.

Does Kwanzaa clash with the black church? | theGrio.

Day 7 of Kwanzaa: Imani means faith; find the common ground – National African-American history |

Day 6 of Kwanzaa: Kuumba means creativity or turn off that television! – National African-American history |

Day 5 of Kwanzaa: Nia means purpose; raising all our children is essential – National African-American history |

Day 4 of Kwanzaa: Ujamaa means cooperative economics or death to the “hook up!” – National African-American history |

Day 3 of Kwanzaa: Ujima means collective work and responsibility – National African-American history |

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