Today, the last day of Kwanzaa, the first day of the New Year, we focus on the last of the Nguzo Saba, Imani – faith. Imani encapsulates the hope and promise of Kwanzaa in its celebration of African American and African-descent peoples. As we explore each of the Nguzo Saba, we are exploring ways that African American folks can thrive, despite the centuries of degradation, oppression, and systemic inequities. Kwanzaa reminds us that there are concrete steps we can each take to ensure that the strength and beauty of African American community will continue. Kwanzaa is an implicit promise, a vote for trust in the bright future that we can empower ourselves to create for our community.
Regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs), faith is a necessary quality for humankind. When our souls are weary, when our burdens seem too heavy to carry, we rely on faith to continue. Several years ago, I questioned whether or not I had a faith practice. When my son died, when I watched his siblings’ struggles, I too wanted to give up. What is there to believe in when seeming randomness can remove someone bright and kind hearted from our world? When I read the newspaper and read of another black man killed for stepping in to interrupt a fight, when I read of a Black woman killed lying in her bed, my heart can feel so burdened I wonder about the futility of our struggle. The Smithsonian Magazine reports that evidence suggests enslaved Africans were brought to the United States as early as 1526. When I think of 494 years of Black people fighting to be seen as fully human, to be accorded the same rights and freedoms as others in the United States, I can hopelessly question, “In what am I grounding my faith that conditions will, one day, improve?”
My faith is grounded in a fervent belief in the indomitable goodness of the human spirit. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to be stolen from my home, starved, beaten, treated less than human. And still, despite the worst efforts of those enslaving them, my ancestors survived. Despite being stolen from diverse communities and lands, they found ways to come together in unity. They worked, not just as individuals to live, but together to ensure that each generation would survive. They found ways to remember who they were, to refuse the labels of animal, ignorant, and lesser than that were thrust upon them. Defining themselves, generations held on to a bright purpose – to free themselves from these chains and reclaim a more hopeful future for the next generation. Although I am a Black person who was not born in the United States, I also am descended from enslaved Africans brought to the western hemisphere. I think of myself on a long chain – stretching back generations to ancestors who chose life, chose hope, chose faith that one day I would exist. Me, who would not be enslaved, who would have access to education, to community, to choice. I don’t know if, dreaming of what is possible, they could have envisioned the fullness of my life. But they persevered in faith that I would one day be. I also think of that chain stretching generations forward. What would my wildest dream be for those future generations? What might my descendants have accomplished? What conditions might they be living in that I can’t even imagine?
This, for me, is faith. The trust that this chain, of continuous, albeit slow, improvement will not be broken. That it runs wide through me and my siblings across the diaspora. Even if one link in the chain becomes damaged, is removed, the chain will continue. It continues because we humans can dream. It continues because we have the power to make our dreams come true – maybe not this year, or this generation, or even ten generations from now. But, as long as we keep focused on attending to the deepest needs of our community, and of the individuals who comprise our communities – those dreams will come true.
What is the source of your faith? What vision of the future does your faith paint for you? How can you sustain yourself in those moments when faith is shaky?
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