By David A. Anderson

“Our fathers and mothers came here; lived, loved and built here. At this place, their love and labor rose like the sun, and gave strength and meaning to the day….”

The above quotation is drawn from the tribute to the ancestors, called “Libation.”   The recitation, combined with the pouring of libation is rendered in tribute to ancestors.  Ancestors: people that have crossed over, but whose deeds while among the living, represent the respectful and honorable way to perform as human beings.

Thus, the above quotation (continued at the end of this article) is a call that the living try to walk in the footsteps of the ancestors.  It calls for descendants of the ancestors, to practice daily, the principles at the foundation of Kwanzaa. Yet, our struggle is less well organized, indeed anemic when compared to the spiritual and physical efforts of those that trod the stony roads of “Auction Block Avenue,” and “Jim Crow Boulevard.”  Although such thoroughfares are paved over, too many African Americans keep sliding off (or is that “slipping off”) stony roads, getting lost in the bush, and brush, and even unpaved lanes to nowhere.

“Why don’t the schools…?”; “If City Hall would…”; “Obama might/won’t/don’t/can’t….” We trip over the clutter of blown minds, unsure of who and what to trust. Instead of that “Balm in Gilead” prayed for by our much-abused great-great grandparents, we are disorganized in our feeble efforts to reclaim the spiritual legacy.

Well, “Balm in Gilead”; “Joshua Fit the Battle at Jericho”; “Didn’t My Lord

Deliver Daniel”; “This May be the Last Time,” and other such songs call for divine guidance on the struggle for freedom and justice.  Determination to fight for these principles was more powerful than tons of silver bullets, gold-plated drones, and nervous nerve gas, combined.  Such anthems underscored the sacred duty Black folk had (and have) to hold on to the humanity bequeathed, ordained by the Almighty.  Significant to that duty was and remains to demonstrate to the enslavers, and Jim Crow’s mama, what it is to be human.  (“Help me, Holy Ghost!”)

November 5, about 50 people affiliated with Nazareth College, will have gathered at that place to participate in a learning experience, entitled, ‘pre-Kwanzaa.”  Some may have been present at one of the community Kwanzaa celebrations that have occurred annually, since 1967.  Perhaps one of them might recall the recommendation that the seventh day of Kwanzaa—Imani, i.e., Faith—unfold in homes, rather than public places.

The pre-Kwanzaa event of November 5, at Nazareth, is a peek, a preview, if you will, designed to enhance Nazareth’s capacity to develop into an environment whereby students acquire capacity and commitment to engage in civil discourse and respectful dialogue around difference: religious, political, sexual orientation, or, race.  Indeed, Nazareth has representation in all such “differences.”   Many of its graduates go forth to engage in businesses, schools, government, et al, and thus have encounters with pupils, patrons, clientele, congregations, patients, inmates, et al.  Skills in “interfaith dialogue” are critical.

A much richer learning environment is available to we who are residents in Greater Rochester; especially those who have children that attend (more or less) schools in the City Rochester—or even nearby suburbs, both of which are deficient in engaging students in “interfaith dialogue.”  It is for certain that only a minority of those often labeled as “minorities,” are exposed to the significance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or “Balm in Gilead” or ”Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” and other canons.  “Canon”?  “You mean, Cannon”?  No, no; it’s not about shooting anybody; it is about canon law, the law of spirituality as kept our ancestors minds “stayed on freedom,” until “justice began to “roll down like a mighty stream!”   

The degree to which practice of such canon is absent from home and church, leaves our children adrift in the treacherous waters of  “minority(ism).”  Said, in another way, there’s another label waiting for a people that fail to practice daily, the seven principles at the foundation of Kwanzaa.

December 26 through December 31, numbers of groups and individuals will lift up the principles of Kwanzaa.  Rochester Kwanzaa Coalition (RKC) is again coordinating with organizations and sites that will host the communal celebration.  Beginning December 26, the principle of “Umoja,” (oo-moe-juh) or UNITY will be lifted up.  Thereafter, each day, another principle will be intoned. December 31, all the principles (even the principle for January 1) will be underscored by the tradition of WATCH NIGHT. WatchNight was sanctified on that solemn evening in 1862, when, ancestors slipped off to the many hush harbors of the plantation South, and handful of Black churches, mainly in the North.  Everybody was on the same page, even those that could not read, or had no paper pages to read from: “Lord, if it be thy will (and we believe it is) please have Mr. Lincoln sign that ’mancipation paper, ‘cause we gon’ be free, Lord. We gon’ take our freedom.” The petition was honored; President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, setting at last, the Union on the road to victory, even if it called for an end to slavery.  To make it so, some 200,000 men of color were at last enlisted in the Union Army.  They served with courage; they were noble human beings, ancestors of today’s people that call themselves Afro-Rochesterians, African Americans, Black people, but never, “minorities.”

For them, then who gave so much, we give in return.

May our eyes be the eagle; our strength be elephant and the boldness of our 

life be like the lion;

And may we always remember our ancestors for as long as the sun shines 

and the waters flow.

Editorial Note: Rochester Kwanzaa Coalition will, in November, publish time and locations for the public celebration of Kwanzaa.