Dr. Kwesi Brookins | Guest Columnist
2016 has been a year that, as my elders used to say, has tested our nerves and our resolve. For African American people in particular, the forces that are seemingly aligned against us have the tendency and perhaps goal of knocking us off course, creating fear, confusion and doubt and deterring us from doing the things that we were and need to be doing. At these moments, it is always good and necessary to take stock, recenter, refocus and recommit to the things that acknowledge and celebrate who we are as a people. That was true in 1966 when Dr. Maulana Karenga created the African American cultural celebration of Kwanzaa.
And that is true now as we move from 2016 into 2017. The extrajudicial killings of black people, our growing awareness of the judicial destruction of black lives, the targeting of black communities, and the results of the past elections have fueled considerable anxiety and trauma for individuals and families both within and beyond our communities.
And if all of that is true, it begs the question: so what are we really celebrating? In short…ourselves, the value and joys of our existence, our history of struggle and triumph, and the possibilities of our future.
It is also true that the numbers of people who acknowledge or even understand the post-Christmas through New Year’s celebration of Kwanzaa, at least from my observations, has declined since I first participated almost 40 years ago. Kwanzaa has nevertheless traveled with me from my hometown of Chicago, to Lansing, Michigan, and now to Raleigh, North Carolina. The Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, was the foundation on which I and several NC State students built our Kemetic Education for Young Scholars program in the early 1990s. This rite-of-passage program for coed cohorts of black youth in several schools and communities in Raleigh sought to reintroduce the value of the cultural principles that are at the heart of our history and existence in America. The seven day Kwanzaa period has also been an important time each year for my family. Although we do better some years more than others, our three generations celebrate each other through it at home and in the community. So, in many ways, Kwanzaa is at the heart of pretty much everything I do, including my teaching, research and service here at NC State. It is therefore always a pleasure and honor to participate in the annual Kwanzaa celebration hosted by the African American Cultural Center.
So how do we use the Nguzo Saba? The principle of Umoja (Unity) is represented in the organizing and gathering of black, brown and other students in response to recent racist and bigoted events both on and off campus. Ujima (collective work and responsibility) and Kuumba (creativity) is found in the continued existence of this very newspaper, The Nubian Message, which highlights the perspectives of people of African descent as we make sense out of the experiences of this Wolfpack nation as well as the world. And perhaps the most difficult principle to be realized is Ujamaa (cooperative economics). Yet, it points to what must become central to the very reasons students are here and pursuing a life course that must ultimately be used for community benefit. We must, however, look beyond “economics” as just related to the salaries we will make or the things we can purchase. The wealth of the communities we live in is essential to the strength of those communities and the people within them. The goal of Ujamaa is to get every labor activity and professional pursuit to be pointed towards community as much as it benefits ourselves and our families.
So during this Kwanzaa season, let us continue to practice the Kujichagulia (self-determination) that our ancestors taught us. We have much work to do as we enter a new year. If we make it our Nia (purpose) to thoughtfully and passionately pursue our individual and collective goals, we can beat back the madness that has seemingly taken over the world we thought we knew. What we will find is that the foundation that Kwanzaa provides gives us very firm ground to stand upon and the peace of mind (Imani – faith) to be the people that have always brought balance and justice to the American experiment. So take stock, recenter, refocus, recommit…and CELEBRATE!