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.