Monday, December 31, 2012

Nia -- Purpose

I love Akron, not in small part because I am constantly surprised.  People say to me you have come home or how can you stand to be back here.  But the home of my birth is now under the pavement of a greatly expanded Akron General Hospital and the home of my youth is occupied (happily I hope)  by a grandmother and the now adolescent grandson she is raising.  That she is white and he is African-American indicates how much the city where I was born has changed and how much more today it feels like home.

The Symbols of Kwanzaa from
I went to Kwanzaa last night.  I am an occasional participant in a community-based research action team as part of Project Ujima. I missed our Kwanzaa on Friday (Ujima -- Collective Work and Responsibility). Project Ujima is a 3 year project to investigate and create utilization plans for the new Community Learning Centers (CLC) in the Buchtel Cluster, that is West Akron.  I will write more about this later except to say the buildings are beautiful and participants in the effort are a a lively crowd.  The Buchtel CLC and the Men's Group of Centenary United Methodist Church sponsored last night's Kwanzaa at the church so I went in support. 

Kwanzaa is a made up holiday for an historically displaced people.  It tries to provide for the ancestors of the polyglot captives of the slave trade what refugees here from all over the world experience when celebrating the rituals and holidays of their home lands -- memory of who we were, nostalgia for a place we never knew, commitment to be better people where we are. 

There were about 40 people at last night's event.  Many children and members of the Buchtel High CLC class of 2014 and graduates of the class of 2012.  Our sweet colored children (they would hate that I call them that but I get to be the cranky middle-aged colored auntie here).  The theme of the day was Nia or Purpose and the young people presented on their purpose, frequently in terms of what God wanted of them.  Then we had a presentation -- Israel and Palestine.

The Seven Principles
I was worried when I saw this on the program for the night.  African-American Christians can be quite conservative about Israel believing evangelical myth-making about the inevitability and necessity of it's triumph over the "Arabs".  But this was different, and I was again surprised by my new/old hometown.  

Dr. Martha Banks, PhD, a research neuropsychologist and church member, along with maybe 15 other African-Americans of disparate faiths had gone on an October fact-finding mission to Palestine organized by Interfaith Peace Builders.  They were the second of their African Heritage Delegations. Her purpose was to tell the truth about the occupation and to show how it compared to historical experiences of racism, apartheid and Jim Crow.  It was a lengthy and brilliant presentation that wove together history of the partition of Palestine, scriptural exegesis, African-American consciousness of structural racism, comparisons to the sequestration of Native Americans on reservations and many, many photographs. Rev. Stephanie Lee, pastor of Centenary and delegation member, took questions.  It was a challenging and difficult presentation for everyone but folks, including the young ones,  hung with it and asked important questions.

I have invited Dr. Banks to submit a brief version of her presentation to Urban Ecology, but to end the year I have posted an update from Jean Riesman about her work this summer in Beit Arabya rebuilding the Palestinian home in Jerusalem that had been demolished last year by the Israeli Army.  May the coming year bring us all closer to justice and peace.  

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