Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kwanzaa 2011 and the New Year 2012

January 1 is the last of 7 days of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African and African-American culture, a tradition created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Its roots have grown strong, nurtured by many who resonated with the idea that we descendants of Africa in the Diaspora are worthy of celebration, along with our culture and our ancestors. Its branches have extended out of the homes where Kwanzaa began into libraries, museums, community centers, schools, and even the media now include "Happy Kwanzaa" to well wishes for other traditions celebrated around the same time. Yet, much of its richness remains untapped, much of its potential fruit, unripened. I speak here of the principles of Kwanzaa, the heart of this celebration. They are at the core of how we have survived as a People, flourished even: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Imani.

I have been blessed to be part of a community of friends and family over the years who have pursued these values in our living and share a commitment not only to our immediate community but our larger community. Each of us in our own way has attempted to add to the beauty of our community, small and large, to add to the healing in our community, mindful that there remain many who live on the margins of survival, of feeling connected and valued, and even of feeling human. We have raised our children to feel connected to and care about our immediate and larger community and to bring that mindset and heart to their chosen work.

I once worked with someone who said to me, "Love is the most powerful force in the Universe."

Over and over, I find it so true. And a communal love that includes love of self and love of the collective can part the fiercest fog of oppression, and dissipate the ugliest of self-destruction. To love is to value oneself, to know in one's marrow that you have a place at the Divine table that is not earned, but freely given, despite all the messages coming at you that it's money, title, brand of sneakers or muscle mass that bestow your worth.

In 2012 it is my hope that the branches of Kwanzaa will reach deeper into our communities with a purpose to empower more of us to resist the mentality of street life, to make a way (as we always have) through and around the brush/the predatory landscape/and the pain of so many losses to something that affirms our value, a deeper love, a wider loving.

In 2012, it is my intent to love with both a ferocity and gentleness as called for, and to open more fully to receiving the abundance of love in the Universe.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflections on 9/11 and Serena

Yesterday was filled with memorials and testimony to loss on that day like no other, when the scale of skyscrapers and all the modernity and abundance it embodied crumpled. If only it had been walls, computers, and glass alone that had disintegrated.

If only the antipathy back and forth had ended with the sacrifice that day. If only the mind and heart of Americans understood that when Bush said "We are right," he spoke half-truth. We have not always been on the side of freedom and democracy, here or abroad, and there are families all over the globe who have mourned loved ones too, even if they did not occupy tall buildings when dictators we supported and support besieged them. There is so much to grieve.

We can be proud to be American and live in this land without walking and talking righteousness. We can also be humble about our mistakes and the fact that we do not own the corner of tragic loss. I do not agree that the thousands of deaths on that day in 2001 constitute the worse time in our history. That day does not erase all the days of the enslaved, all the bodies on the floor on the Atlantic, nor the Native lives today ending in suicide,liver demise, and despair. All lives are precious.

On the bumper of my car is a sticker that says 'God Bless Everyone. No Exceptions."

The water that flows from the sides of the squares marking the space of the once World Trade Center is a beautiful choice of elements, for water has the power to reconcile and to heal. I will pay tribute in person there and pray for all victims of terrorism, worldwide.

Even as the tenth year commemoration service took place and the media saturated the airwaves with images and stories etched on that day forward, I chose to focus elsewhere, including the Women's Final at the Open. I looked forward to seeing Serena clench the title, having played so fierce the entire tournament, her gratitude at being alive and playing evident, in her voice, her arm stroke, and her fluid feet. I wondered too if she carried a special energy for Venus who had to lay down her racket in the tournament. But Serena didn't have it yesterday. I muted the sound off and on when I couldn't bear it. She has a temper when she feels wronged and I can relate, but I felt so proud of the grace she modeled when interviewed on the Court next to her opponent. I know she wasn't nearly as accepting of her loss as she projected, but she was good enough to smile and be humble, and that let me feel she was far from crushed. It let me feel peace.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

My roots and Southern soil are irrevocably entwined. Atlanta is where my mom was born, seven years before Martin Luther King Jr. came into the world in that same city, which has grown so wide since those days. I never saw the strange fruit on the trees but the ghosts of it were around. I think they're still around, glimpses, hints, muffled sounds.
But today, I want to express my gratitude, from that girl from the South, and from this woman and mother, now in the North, to Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who marched with him, and all whose shoulders they stood upon.

The sound of Martin Luther King's voice made me feel proud and at home, a well-educated Black man speaking with the cadence, the intelligence and the intensity of my People. His eyes, those striking deep black pools, could envision the bold, the need for justice to keep rising up to find its place, to insist. His eyes, onyx gems, could witness the brutality and offer his vulnerability as strength. With his voice, his vision and his actions he inspired others to bring forward their power to resist injustice, to use what they had, their feet, their bodies. I didn't like that he led people into being beaten. Malcolm's stance appealed to me much more, yet I respected King for his unwillingness to wait and his courage.

They are faceless, the women and men who walked miles to work day in and out, refusing a degrading bus ride. But because of them, I ride Metro North and no white person can tell me to give up my seat when the crowded train does not afford them one. I thank those Montgomery elders. I thank everyone who walked in fear, in terror, holding onto each other and faith in bringing about change, Black and White. But I am especially indebted to the Blacks because for the most part they lived in that Southern belly, and most of the Whites came from elsewhere. They could leave, though Goodman, Schwerner, and Viola did not. But the local Blacks who marched had to keep breathing through the terror that went on after the marching and voter registration. Sadly, the names of those Birmingham girls bombed to death are not committed to memory even though Spike has remembered them in film. But I thank them and their families for the sacrifice they did not offer but made. To Emmett and his mother, who insisted the world see what happened to her son, I say the same.

I thank all those who surrounded Martin Luther King, his inner circle of Jessie, Andrew, Ralph, Coretta, John and any others who held him up. I thank all those who lost jobs, their minds, their lives in the face of the Civil Rights movement, and their descendants who bear this legacy.

At the time of his murder, Martin Luther King had begun to broaden his focus to challenge economic injustice and war in addition to racial oppression. In one of his not well-known speeches he began to conceive of ghettos as colonies. He had to die. But I thank you Martin for standing up and aspiring to bring living at the highest level of humanity into being.