VOL. 23 NO. 1
OUR TIME PRESS January 3-9, 2019
The Significance of Brooklyn in Kwanzaa's Continued Growth ■■
he story of Kwanzaa begins with the concept of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is an ideal that encompasses the entire scope of the African experience: the art, culture and philosophy of Africans and African nations, the norms and values that have origins in African nations, and the resolute idea that African peoples in all parts of the world should create self-reliance based on collectivity and an adherence to African culture and philosophy. While Pan-Africanism as a philosophy can be drawn back past the 18th century, modern PanAfricanism has its beginnings at the turn of the 20th century. And while Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure are two of the most prominent figures of Pan-Africanism, in America names like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X fueled scores of young Black people to adopt PanAfricanism as a mode of expression and ultimately a way of life. One such person was Maulana Karenga. The founder of Kwanzaa credits Malcolm X as being influential in his work, particularly Malcolm’s thoughts on Pan-Africanism and the need for a “cultural revolution.” Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a way to give Blacks an opportunity to “celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” At a time of Black awareness and cultural identification, Kwanzaa was an idea that fit the needs of the people in a way that was necessary. However, this was the pre-digital age. Karenga couldn’t just rely on the idea of Kwanzaa going viral for it to take hold. The idea of Kwanzaa had to be introduced, vetted and then accepted
The Kwanzaa Collective
By Marlon Rice by Black Nationalist organizations that were willing to listen to the idea. Karenga was convicted in 1971 of felonious assault and imprisonment. He was sentenced to 1-10 years in California. Without Karenga free to continue spreading the ideals of Kwanzaa, this new Black holiday could’ve easily expired as most ideas do, quickly and quietly. But Kwanzaa was a special ideal, and it was accepted by a special organization in Brooklyn. The East began celebrating Kwanzaa in 1969. The organization was one of a few that continued to acknowledge the holiday, even while Karenga was away in prison. And with every year of celebrating the holiday, the seeds of the movement were spread across the borough, across the city and effectively across the nation. Kwanzaa is now celebrated by over 30 million people in America. Fifty-two (52) years after its introduction, Kwanzaa is still a very important part of the holiday season in Brooklyn. This past week saw the continuation of two foundational Kwanzaa events organized by the people who were there at the beginning. Last Thursday, the Kwanzaa Collective presented “A Unity Celebration” at PS 57. Vendors were onsite with various quality merchandise: Asase Yaa, the drum and dance ensemble, performed and a great discussion was held in the auditorium. While there, I got a chance to listen to Dr. Leonard Jeffries, former professor of Black Studies at CUNY, speak about PanAfricanism as it stands today. The event was organized by Michael Kofi Mulezi Hooper, chairman of the Kwanzaa Collective and the founder of the Umoja Food Collective. Mr.
Baraka Smith teaching the children about Kwanzaa
Hooper’s dedication to Kwanzaa is bona fide and recognized throughout the community. At an event honoring Mr. Hooper back in 2017, world-renowned acupuncturist and founder of the P.E.A.C.E. Health Center Dr. Shadidi Beatrice Kinsey said, “When I think of Kwanzaa, I think of Michael (Hooper).” The Kwanzaa Collective continues to work towards growing the holiday through information and demonstration. Last Saturday, The East held its own Kwanzaa celebration at For My Sweet, an event space located directly around the corner from 10 Claver Place, the place where The East was founded in 1969. The families of the organization came together to enjoy the Karamu and to celebrate the holiday. Moving into its 50th Anniversary, the growth and expansion of The East can be seen on a global level, with members and families spread out
Lighting the Kinara at the Kwanzaa Collective Event. across the globe, but the intent and commitment to Blackness still exists at the core of each family. And Kwanzaa is a holiday to celebrate that Blackness. Pictures were sent through Instagram of East family members in Atlanta that couldn’t make the trip up to New York, coming together out there to celebrate Kwanzaa. In North Carolina and in California, East family members
were celebrating and inviting people to learn more about the holiday. So, while The East celebration was here in Brooklyn, those members that weren’t here still joined in from where they were. Maulana Karenga created the holiday known as Kwanzaa. Brooklyn has fortified the holiday into a force that is growing past 30 million people.