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Kwanzaa: A Time to Recommit to Black Liberation

 

By Louisha Barnette | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

 


Friday, December 25, 2015.

 


Below is a slightly modified speech that Louisha Barnette gave at North Carolina State University for their 25th annual Kwanzaa celebration. Students requested insight on how Kwanzaa can be made relevant to the current atrocities facing the black community. This is her response.

 

Richard Perkins, 39 year old father of 2, was the 1,000th person murdered by United States law enforcement in 2015. He was shot 16 times by 4 Oakland Police Officers. The officers had on body cameras, but they were turned off.

 

How does this relate to Kwanzaa? The seven principles of Kwanzaa were written as a direct response to the atrocities facing black people in the 1960s: lynchings, poor education, inadequate housing, unhealthy food, low wages, denial of basic civil and human rights, and degradation.

 

Kwanzaa was conceptualized during the time when:

 

Eugene “Bull” Conner ordered his police department to use fire hoses, police attack dogs and night sticks to break up Freedom Riders.

 

Four young girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, while 22 others were injured.

 

Three civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwemer were arrested on speeding charges, incarcerated, reported missing by the FBI and later found dead. The three men were simply trying to register people to vote and investigate church bombings.

 

50 protesters were hospitalized after being tear gassed, whipped and clubbed at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. The day was so horrific it was dubbed, “Bloody Sunday.”

 

Residents in Watts, California rebelled against police tyranny, inadequate housing, poor schools and high unemployment. The rebellion lasted 6 days. It resulted in 34 deaths and the military occupation of 14,000 National Guard troops in a 46-mile area.

 

These atrocities mirror what we see today. Let's use December 26th - January 1st to intentionally REFLECT on critical issues facing our community, REMEMBER the words and wisdom of previous freedom fighters, and RECOMMIT to Black Liberation.

 

TO REFLECT ON CRITICAL ISSUES FACING OUR COMMUNITY

 

In January 2015, it was reported that Palm Beach County Sheriff, Ric Bradshaw, bragged in a community meeting how police dogs ripped off the testicles of a Black man. He then urged citizens to run over protesters because they may rob, kill or rape. If they are hurt, he asserted, it is their fault. One officer drove 102 miles per hour into a crowd, killed someone, and when he was going to be charged with vehicular manslaughter, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw put someone else on the case.

 

Sandra Bland, a Texas based activist, was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. She was later found dead in a Waller County jail cell.

 

Just last month, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis while protesting the police murder of Jamar Clark.

 

Uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson occurred this year in response to state sanctioned violence, high unemployment and inadequate housing.

 

Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the selling of 2,500 adults and juveniles, some as young as 10 years old, to developers of for-profit prisons. Ciavarella made more than a million dollars.

 

We are in a time when prisons are on the stock market. This means expenses are kept as low as possible (unhealthy food, inadequate housing, poor medical care), inmates and the state are overcharged to keep revenue high, and most importantly, millions of black and brown people are being locked up, typically for minor, non-criminal or false charges.

 

At Charleston’s Emanuel AME church, Reverend Clementa Pickney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson were shot and murdered by Dylann Roof while attending bible study.

 

The Emanuel 9 shocked many people because it showed that it does not matter if you pull your pants up, speak articulately, wear relaxed hair or go to college. It does not matter if you're currently employed, serve your community, get married and are raising your family well. It does not matter if you work hard and stop smoking weed; you can be murdered at church just for being black. This is a much harsher reality than the American dream that we are indoctrinated with on a daily basis.

 

TO REMEMBER THE WORDS AND WISDOM OF PREVIOUS FREEDOM FIGHTERS

 

“Black Power is the coming together of black people to fight for their liberation by any means necessary.” ~Kwame Ture

 

Sisters and brothers, see yourself as black. Think black. Love black. Value black. See yourself in every black person, which includes the homeless brother and the gay sister. See yourself in the ghettos of the poor and marginalized. We are all connected. None of us are free until all of us are free. Make it your duty to fight for your liberation, and for the liberation of all oppressed people. In some form or fashion, 99% of the world's population is oppressed.

 

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes if they know that that knowledge will help set you free." ~Assata Shakur

 

Our education system teaches us to honor those who brought stolen people to a stolen land. We are taught that Africa is a destitute continent. We are taught that African descendants haven’t contributed anything to society, except doing some creative things with peanuts. You have to ask why we are being taught these things. You also have to ask what we are not being taught. Do you think it is a coincidence that we go through 12-16 years of schooling, but as a society are not taught how to grow food, construct housing, sew clothes, barter and live communally? 

 

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” ~Assata Shakur

 

Do you want to spend most of your life working to pay off debt? Do you want to spend more time at work than with your own family? Do you want to continue being stressed out and always tired? Well, stop trying to appease, be liked by and accepted by your oppressor; it will not lead to our liberation, brothers and sisters.

 

“We cannot have the oppressor telling the oppressed how to rid themselves of the oppressor.” ~Kwame Ture

 

If liberation means stopping the killing of oppressed people, we can’t settle for criminal justice reform or ban the box. If liberation means equal sharing of profits between the workers and the CEOs, we can't afford to settle for low wages and government poverty programs. If liberation means a free quality education, child care, health insurance, and long term care for seniors, we cannot settle for diversity training workshops, subsidized child care and emergency room visits in substitution of adequate healthcare. Medicaid reform is not liberation.

 

“Anytime you have to rely upon your enemy for a job, you are in bad shape.” ~Malcolm X

 

Do you have to work so many hours that you don’t have time to take care of yourself or your family? Are you paid so little that you still have to scrape by and depend on government assistance to survive? Are you denied health coverage, holiday and overtime pay, maternity and grievance leave? Do you have to change your hair at work, your mannerisms or the way you speak? Do you have to compromise the very essence of who you are? We have to create for ourselves, brothers and sisters. We have to shift and build more worker power. We have to build institutions that do not depend on the capitalist system.

 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Audre Lorde

 

Last month, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released data that showed more people die from legally prescribed drugs (meaning drugs that the Food and Drug Administration have said are safe), than from heroin and cocaine combined. According to a 2013 report released by the CDC, the leading cause of death in the U.S. was heart disease, taking the lives of 611, 105 people.

 

What is the cause of heart disease? Damage to the arteries, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, stress and smoking. A problem was created and profits are made at our expense. Money is being made from the creation of unhealthy food. Money is being made from the creation of cigarettes. Money is being made from pharmaceutical drugs to help cope with the symptoms. Money is being made to research the cure and the prevention. Money is also being made when you die, from the life insurance companies and even the selling of your organs.

 

Close to 2 million people died in 2013 from preventable illnesses. How do you prevent these illnesses? Stop eating pseudo foods manipulated by corporations for profit. When possible, don’t take pharmaceutical drugs. Reduce stress, anxiety, and fear by turning off the TV and radio. Get outside and interact with nature. Spend time alone to assess who you are and how you really feel about things. Work less. Spend more time with family and friends. Create for yourself.

 

“Before going back to college, I knew that I didn’t want to be an intellectual, spending my life in books and libraries without knowing what the hell is going on in the streets. Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.” ~Assata Shakur

 

Keep your ear to the streets, sisters and brothers. Serving the community and creating change requires being in the community. It takes more than writing about the problem on social media, or following it on the evening news. Get on the ground and connect with each other to create the changes we want to see.

 

RECOMMIT TO BLACK LIBERATION: THEORY AND PRACTICE

 

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Each day of Kwanzaa honors one of the principles. On each day, decide how you and your family will take action on these principles in 2016. Please share if you are inclined. More importantly, take these ideas back to your communities and take action.

 

Umoja-Unity (December 26th): Remembering the words of Kwame Ture, when is the last time you have talked to and done something for your parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors and strangers? Start at home. How can you contribute to creating unity within our race, nation, and around the world?

 

Kujichagulia-Self Determination (December 27th): Remembering the words of Malcolm X, how can you start to create and earn revenue for yourself? How can you contribute to the shifting of revenue from the top 1% to the oppressed?

 

Ujima-Collective Work and Responsibility (December 28th): Remembering the words of Assata Shakur, how active are you in oppressed communities that need the most support? What are the needs in those communities? How much time each week can you commit to organizing and responding to the needs they have expressed?

 

Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics (December 29th): Stop giving your hard earned money to people who exploit you. Recently, the college football players in Missouri were a powerful example of this. Their demands were met, not because they are human, not because the leaders developed a conscience, but because millions of dollars were at stake. On Black Friday, sales were down more than $1 Billion, but one day is not enough. What are the names of 5 local, black owned businesses that you will support on a weekly basis for needs such as food, clothing and accessories, gas, toiletries, art, etc.

 

Nia-Purpose (December 30th): Think about how you are going to work towards the liberation of black people and make that your life purpose. What talents, skills and passions can you lend to oppressed communities?

 

Kuumba-Creativity (December 31st): Do the best you can with what you have. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving."

 

Imani-Faith (January 1st): Know that our struggle is worthy. Know that your actions are needed. Believe in our people. Believe in our teachers. Believe in the victory of our struggle. What ongoing practices can you commit to that will keep you uplifted, inspired, and active in the struggle towards liberation?

 

In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive list or even the best list of what to do. You determine the actions you are willing to commit to. All I ask is that you take time to reflect, remember, recommit and share. On each day, answer how you will honor each principle in 2016.  

 

~Gratitude. Love and Light.

 

***

 

Louisha Barnette is a Durham based activist and union organizer with Raise Up and the Fight For $15. She is also the founder of Peach Cobbler Yoga, a community healing practice which includes weekly yoga classes, workshops, speaking engagements, trainings and health coaching.

 

Kwanzaa: A Time to Recommit to Black Liberation

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