(Edited-down version available: http://www2.godanriver.com/news/2010/dec/24/pondering-relevance-kwanzaa-ar-734228/#comment_form)
17 December 2010
Around this time of year, my mind—like that of many, I assume—turns to the holidays, and what they mean to me. Ever the champion of the underdog, my favorite holiday to contemplate happens to be Kwanzaa. I do not speak in jest here; I'm being completely serious. Kwanzaa captures my attention not merely for the uniqueness and marked American-ness of its origin, but because it is one of the few widely-recognized cultural celebrations that has staunchly resisted commercialism, and has remained centered entirely on its core values. This is because its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, structured the week-long observation such that each day is dedicated to a single principle, adapted from African philosophy and denoted in Swahili.
This year, two of the Nguzo Saba (or Seven Principles) seem to be particularly relevant. Day Three is dedicated to the principle of Ujima, or “Collective Work and Responsibility,” and Day Four's mantra is Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics.” Ujima calls us to share in one another's hardships and to work together toward mutually beneficial solutions, while Ujamaa encourages us to grow community wealth by building and supporting independent business enterprises in a conscientious fashion. Here in Danville, where unemployment hovers around a staggering 14%, where increased crime and strife appear to clearly correlate with a receding economy, and where our people seem always to be so caught up in the endless game of making ends meet that collective action becomes nearly impossible, we are in desperate need of this oft-neglected wisdom.
Who do you expect to save you, apart from yourself? Do you look to your government, your president, your congressmen, your state representatives? Some of them believe that our unemployment benefits—which we pay for with our own labor—should not be extended, while others fight tooth and nail to protect the disproportionately miniscule tax rates of the wealthiest among us, the billionaires. The most perverted among their ranks advocate that we allow profit-seekers to mine uranium in our backyard, introducing radioactive carcinogens into our environment—supposedly as a solution to unemployment. Are these the people in whom we have placed our trust? Do they truly represent our interests; are they bringing wealth and wellbeing into our community? Who among them has given you a bailout?
Let's trade rulers and talkers for friends and neighbors. Stock brokers and Federal Reserve chairmen for teachers and pastors. Let's redirect our faith and our authority away from those who tell us via telecast that they have our best interests at heart, and toward ourselves and the people who live, eat, and work alongside us. Let us take matters into our own hands, and provide ourselves with the quality of life we deserve the old-fashioned way: through blood, sweat, tears, and unity.
Together, we can accomplish whatever we set out to do. Rather than sit passively while our situation slips evermore into decay, let us bind together in the spirit of mutual, loving interest. Let's build our wealth together, and let us make a concerted effort to keep it here, among us, in self-accumulating circulation. May this holiday season renew within us a charitable heart that moves us to provide for the least among us as we seek a better life together. And, as we take time over the next two weeks to love each other, enjoy the good company of friends and family, and reflect upon the challenges that will accompany a new year, I pray that we stay focused on the most important principle that connects all holidays, that which Kwanzaa deliberately places at the conclusion of its cycle: Imani, or “Faith.” For it is our faith in ourselves, in each other, and in God that will truly sustain us and bring us new life, now and always.