Our country is divided politically and emotionally. This a time of a needed healing, a time of coming together to close the open wound. For we are split open and bleeding from the mouth to the rear end, wounded like an animal left on the side of the road.
Standing Rock, presidential elections, hate politics as the food of the day, living in fear and reactionary behavior, all are not working toward having unity in thought to create solution.
We don’t seem to be on the same page, except, we have gotten too comfortable in mental and emotional slavery. Even we acknowledge the crime, our solutions offered are ones of striking the first blow. Too much pissing in the yard. All you get over time is a piss smelling yard. We are living in the midst of American Privilege and it is blurring our visions. It has become an inherited sickness of looking the other way. It is not about me, just as long you stay comfortable. Oh you, you need to stop being lazy.
We as a people and a nation have gotten lazy, in our thinking and our actions. And fear has controlled our lives.
My life is my business and I am willing to take the “F” out of fear and open my ears to responsibility. I am responsible for the management of my actions and the effect I have in the world. I have to water my own garden and my individual tree of life. I can’t let the roots get too dry. It is hard to revive a dying plant. But, it can be done.
I believe in the solution of our country’s division and I believe it can be achieved by looking at what happened when our nation had the Watts Riot in 1966. The country was divided on the issue of race and the pimple busted in Los Angeles, California. And I remember, because I was a junior in high school on summer vacation, staying with my father’s mother. Every summer we got to leave the safety of Riverside with its orange grooves, desert and slow living and go to the big city, L.A.
I was frightened and confused when I was told to pack my things in a hurry and we headed to Riverside. I wondered what we had done. We had felt the tension, just as children do. We were told, the word on the street was, “There is going to be a riot.” My world of safety had received a permanent crack and I have never been the same, as I heard gunshots while we were crouched down in the backseat, as we were heading home. When we got home to rush to turn on the television, we saw the city of Watts on fire. I was devastated because my summer vacation was cut short and I feared my life was dying with each flickering flame. I felt the sudden loss of being in the safety of my grandmother’s ample breast, smelling her scent and listening to her heartbeat. I felt I could hear the songs of our ancestors with every beat of her heart. I felt I was connected to our family tree when I was close to her.
A response to setting fire to a community which felt it had lost individual and community respect was answered with the teachings of Dr. Karenga, professor and Chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. His answer was “Kwanzaa,” a celebration created to rebuild a fragmented community and culture. Professor Karenga’s Kwanzaa was the message of bringing good to the world, lighting a pathway to lift up the spirits of the people with seven days of principles that stressed unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Each day has corresponding African names to illustrate the origins of the core values pulled from different harvest celebrations, such as the Ashanti and those of the Zulu which form Kwanzaa, the feast of thanks.
Years later, at school at the University of California, Irvine, I was gifted with the opportunity to bond with the Pan African community on campus. I was thrilled because I had spent previous years in San Francisco living and working within the Pan African community, especially the arts. I had come back to school to create change in my life and I found it by refining my voice. My experiences of working in a multicultural environment began to echo my early years living in Riverside. Because I am of mixed black, native American, French and more, I understood and accepted people of different cultures and traditions. Plus, I was raised in a Hispanic neighborhood and went to bi-lingual school the third, fourth and the sixth grade. In 1979, I was reintroduced to Kwanzaa in more depth, after practicing it in the black community in San Francisco years earlier. In doing so, my heart and soul began to open.
After practicing this ritual of Kwanzaa, the principles become the fibers that weaved my life. It has been over thirty years. These principles allowed me to focus on my self-improvement and how I could unify with my community and continue to uplift my community with my personal gifts. It became my tool box of solution.
This year, I got to celebrate Kwanzaa by sharing my story as an artist of change. It gave me the opportunity to share my journey and my commitment to self-improvement so I can heal myself and then my community. The production of this celebration made me remember the fact this country was as divided in 1966 as it is in 2016. The show is also my artistic response and my solution to the division in our modern times. My dream of unity of the races and going back to being just the human race stated coming back to life. I saw the values of the principles that had changed my life from being a quietly angry black, then an alcoholic being vocally angry man to a proactive artist of change.
This show allowed me to see a solution because I have shared Kwanzaa with my black brothers and sisters, my white counterparts, my Hispanic friends, with people of multiple cultures and the experience has always been the same. I wish my culture had this ritual. Well, I think the timing is now.
The principles of Kwanzaa began and helped to heal the division of the African American community, it could be the answer to the division in Modern America. Maybe that is meant by going back “Making America Great, Again.” Then we can reconnect the roots of the family tree.
Photo courtesy of author