Fighting for Unity?
This is my reflection on Umoja, the first principle of Nguzo Saba of Kwanzaa…
Does it make sense that fighting could lead to unity? On its face, my first thought is, absolutely not. I could imagine for “highly evolved beings” we could probably resolve our differences quickly, with out malice or attitude, and unify for the strengthening of community. But then, I’m reminded of reality. Most times the things that are most important to unify around are also the most controversial. Yesterday, I watched and listened to a number of conversations occur around Kwanzaa, its relevance, its creator, and whether or not we should celebrate it. In fact, a year ago when I wrote Quit Frontin on Kwanzaa my goal was to provide a base that made people feel informed and comfortable about celebrating and reflecting. What I forgot is that, no matter how much I believe in a thing, everyone has the right to feel differently and do as they please. As an African people, we too often have been told what to do, what to believe in, and when to do it. This is not a cycle I wish to re-create.
So in the sense, I believe in freedom of choice as individual within a community. This type of belief could be a serious quandry. Instead, it was this very point that reminded me of a conversation that I had with my Grandfather who moved from Selma, Alabama to Connecticut in the heights of the Civil Rights Movement. I recall reading about the Civil Rights Movement and thinking proudly, “Those are my people.” I returned home to talk to my Grandfather with the goals of hearing organizing stories, fighting stories, you know – eyes on the prize the personal version. When I spoke to him, he told me none. He told me none when I asked, “When you were down there and everything was happening what was it like?” He simply replied, “It was very busy … and I was working.” I remembering feeling betrayed and thinking, “What? Are you serious? Wait, does that mean that I don’t have a personal contribution to the legacy of Civil Rights?” All these questions I later realized came out of ego, not out of a genuine concern for uplift and unity. I wanted his activism to look a certain way, to fit a script, for it to be side-by-side with the van guard of Black grassroots leaders. This was my issues, not his! In fact, after I spoke to my grandfather more he told me about the different meetings and how he was a part of those who did not participate in the most traditional or easily identifiable ways. He didn’t march, he didn’t pass out fliers, but what he did do was actively engage the question of change in his heart, his mind, his church and in his familial work.
You don’t have to have unity in action to have unity in spirit. In fact, sometimes the things that divide us on the surface unify us by send us questioning the deeper dilemmas and understandings that we all hold. It is this fight that is unifying, this fight that provides the engine for change within our community, this fight that we all begin when we begin to seriously think about what our community is. Who is in it? And how shall we move forward? From the seeds of dissent, a new, fuller, tradition of community and change can evolve, even if what we do doesn’t look the same. This can occur only when we enter with humility and value each others’ contributions and questions with a welcoming, challenging, and affirming spirit.