Today, the 6th day of Kwanzaa, is a day when I’m so annoyed at this extended pandemic! As we celebrate today’s principle from the Nguzo Saba, Kuumba – Creativity, I want a huge bustle of folk around me. I want to hear voices lifted in song, see someone drawing, watch folks dancing with abandon and joy to passionate drumming, listen to poetry being read, eat delicious food made with artistic zest. I want folks wandering in and out of my house all night, sharing, witnessing, celebrating the indomitable creativity of African-American folks and humans worldwide. Instead, this Kwanzaa, we’ve had a quieter celebration of Kuumba.
Like most folks around the globe, we’ve been social distancing for the past nine months. So our Kwanzaa Kuumba celebration was very small – my kids, our housemate, and two teens from a family who have been in our pod for the past six months. But even so, there were many moments to reflect on what Kuumba can mean. When I look at the teens in my life, I see them encounter so many of the challenges in relation to creativity that I have long wrestled with. Especially for our teens in these days of social media, there is a distorted perception of what counts as creative and worthy of admiration. I’ve seen teens engaged in art work that I enjoyed, only to have them disparage their efforts because they deem those efforts not as “good” as something they’ve seen on Instagram or TikTok. I watch them hesitate to dance, to draw, to write – saying, over and over again, “I’m not good at ___; I can’t ___.” I’ve watched myself begin to draw or write, then put away what I’ve created because it doesn’t measure up to some external standard.
I’m saddened when I think about how much we’ve lost our inner compass, our internal motivation for engaging in creative behavior. Looking at our youngest children, we see them pick up a pencil and draw for the sheer joy of creating. We see them wiggle and dance and leap with exuberant delight in their bodies’ capacity to move. Little children know that the capacity for creativity – to bring beauty in our world that leaves it brighter than we found it – lies in all of us. When children are acknowledged for their efforts, for their willingness to engage, we see them light up and their creative outpourings increase. And when they are praised and told the fruits of their labor is good, when they see it will be quantified and judged in some way, they slowly lose that creative abandon that can fill us.
The impact of external criticism and judgment is compounded when racism, conscious or unconscious, is added. I remember dancing with joy at a party as a pre-teen, only to leave the room in tears when other children laughed because my style of dance didn’t match theirs. I didn’t dance again publicly for many years. I remember writing long hours, working as a teen on a story about my culture and being an immigrant – but stopping after criticism that led me to believe my writing would not resonate to most folks.
Kuumba is an invitation to resist societal constraints on what is acceptable and instead to embody the Nguzo Saba of the previous days and let them liberate our full expression. I can decide for myself what I value, what is beauty to my eyes. I can allow my creative self-expression to inspire my community – not with some abstract standard of beauty, but with my passion and my willingness to show up and risk. Through my creativity, I can continue the celebration of the perseverance demonstrated by generations of my people who have been systematically oppressed for generations, who yet found ways to create music, poetry, jokes, meals, songs, art that showed that the beauty of life and the human spirit, our interconnectedness, will not be suppressed.
This year, at the start of Kwanzaa, I was thinking about creativity. I thought of how much I longed to be a writer as a child and how much I told myself I could not as an adult. I decided that this year, I would write. Each day of Kwanzaa, I would write something without worrying – was it well written, would I inspire folks, would it – would I – be good enough. So on this 6th day of Kwanzaa, I’m celebrating that this is my 6th daily post. And even though I’m writing it to you, my unknown audience, I’m clear I’m primarily writing it for myself. I’m writing to remind myself that my creativity, my vulnerability, can leave our world a little better than I found it. I’m writing to remind myself that if I enjoy what I’ve created, it’s enough.
Where do you hold back your creativity? What would you risk producing if you believed that whatever you created was a gift to our world? What can you do to support everyone’s authentic expression? How can you receive others’ creative endeavors in a way that nurtures that spark inside the creator?
Read my reflections for the 7 days of Kwanzaa
Day 1: Umoja – Unity
Day 2: Kujichagulia – Self Determination
Day 3: Ujima – Collective Work & Responsibility
Day 4: Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics
Day 5: Nia – Purpose
Day 6: Kuumba – Creativity
Day 7: Imani – Faith