Around this time of year we start to think about our family and our faith; we also think about Kwanzaa, a uniquely African-American tradition that focuses our attention on our culture, our loved ones and our spirit. The season is a welcome reminder of how faith, family, culture and spirit are intertwined in our everyday lives.
In the daily hustle we sometimes neglect our history and take our culture for granted, yet they feed our sense of identity and belonging. They offer positive African-American role models in our families, in our communities and among our ancestors, men and women who can light the way for our children, and for us. When we listen to blues, jazz or hip-hop, read a passage by Toni Morrison or Terry McMillan, consider the legacy of Coretta Scott King or the artistry of Faith Ringgold, or hear a sermon by Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, we are inspired. And when we sit down at the table to a holiday meal with our families, whether bonded by blood or chosen by love, that enriches us too.
We’ve certainly faced our challenges this year, with the economic recession hitting African-Americans hardest of all. And recently, The New York Times reported on efforts to pass laws that will effectively make it more difficult for minorities, the young, the poor and the elderly to vote in 2012.
Hard to believe?
I know some people think we are the world’s best conspiracy theorists until they learn about our history and all the stories that many texts neglect to include. They seldom mention, for example, that Benjamin Banneker, a Black man, designed the stately city of Washington, D.C.; that Sally Hemings, a Black woman, really did bear the children of founding father Thomas Jefferson; that a Black woman, Ann Lowe, designed Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress for her marriage to John F. Kennedy; that from 1932 to 1972 the government really did conduct syphilis experiments on 600 Black men without their knowledge; that the inventor of the now ubiquitous traffic signal, Garrett Morgan, was a Black man. Many of us didn’t learn these histories in school, and neither will most of our kids.
Our family’s sustenance and legacy are in our hands. So as you gather for the holidays with your loved ones, even those who routinely try your patience, put on some Aretha, dust off that old picture of your grandparents or of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the newer one of the Obamas, maybe throw a piece of kente cloth—yes, I went there—over the back of a chair, and give thanks for faith and family, for our culture and our enduring spirit. And tell our stories. Let’s remind one another how far love has brought us as a people, and how much further we can yet go, then applaud yourself for making it through this year.
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