was recently in the presence of Dr. Maulana Karenga, an erudite scholar and educator who created Kwanzaa. A VIP reception was held as part of ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the tradition, and the cream of the Pan African movement enthusiasts and Philadelphia heavy weights like Kenny Gamble and Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza –the Kwanzaa event organizers, attended it.
Dr. Karenga spoke on knowing and affirming thyself and choosing to be African every day. It dawned on me that, if one was not born and raised in Africa, one needed help in knowing what that means.
When I was leaving the event, Bobbi Booker, Philadelphia Tribune’s reporter, asked, “Well, what do you think?” In all fairness, when I had experienced past Kwanzaa and Odunde events, and had been asked how they compared with what we have in Africa, I always said there was nothing there to compare to. These celebrations were not practiced in these forms in Africa. Those inquiring, used to express utter surprise.
However, to answer Bobbi’s question, I paused to collect my thoughts and I proceeded cautiously. I told her of a former colleague who asked me to bring him a bottle of sand from the motherland.
I did. Thank God, it was before Homeland Security tightened up, because when the immigration officer heard what was inside the bottle, he just looked at me strangely but waved me on.
I acknowledged to Bobbi, that though my friend found tremendous value in this symbol of Africa, it had no such meaning for me–it was just dirt. Since Kwanzaa and Odunde have not been traditionally celebrated in Africa, I have had no understanding or emotional attachment to them here. The same is true for many of my African-born acquaintances.
Dr. Karenga helped me appreciate these ‘Made in America’ symbols, which have been particularly created to help African Americans to culturally attach to the countries of our mutual ancestry. For many, these constructs are vital, being the only way of realizing their dreams to connect to the motherland.
For those at the events who market cultural artifacts and merchandise, it represented opportunity to help others to touch and feel Africa.
For others, who can afford traveling over the Atlantic, as was evident from the audience’s comments that night; these festivals were still significant celebrations of the richness of our collective heritage.
As Bobbi put it “we all have much to learn from each other, and we have a mighty responsibility in sharing those things we’ve learned. Simply put: Each one, teach one…Each one, reach one.”
This is just one example of why FunTimes has chosen as a guiding theme, “To connect cultures, communities and countries.” Those of the African Diaspora who have travelled so many different paths, in divergent spaces and times, coming back together is a powerful phenomenon for a shared Black Agenda and the uplift of our people.
2017 presents awesome potential– let us join hands!