On the eve the 50th Anniversary Nguzo Saba 2015 Conference and Awards Luncheon held by the African American Cultural Center and the Organization Us, the Sentinel interviewed the central figure of this half century celebration and milestone, Dr. Maulana Karenga. An activist scholar of international recognition, Dr. Karenga is professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Following, is part 2 of that interview.
LAS: Who are some of the men and women who influenced your life and thinking?
DMK: Of course, I first learned a lot from my father and mother. They taught me the value of knowledge, to love learning and to cultivate a life of the mind; to do good in the world; to care for the poor and the vulnerable; to discipline myself for suffering, sacrifice and achievement; and to always share the good, especially with those who helped us achieve it. Others who influenced my life were my other family members, my grade school teachers, and selected elders who taught, helped and encouraged me to strive for excellence in all I do, as did my parents. As a student and activist intellectual, I began to read, study and extract lessons from the teachings of the heroes and heroines of our history like Malcolm X, Messenger Elijah Muhammad, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McLeod Bethune, Anna Julia Cooper, Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, and of course, the Hon. Marcus Garvey. They all taught love of our people, a profound commitment to freedom, justice and good in the world and the willingness and courage to struggle to bring them into being.
LAS: You founded your organization when you were young with people who were young and young people now are beginning to get involved in the struggle against police violence and general systemic violence in a way they had not done so before since perhaps the 60s. You have young people presenting at your conference and place a lot of emphasis on intergenerational solidarity. Do you have any special message for young people here?
DMK: My message for them, in a larger sense, is the same as it is for all our people: seek and speak truth; do and demand justice; honor your elders and ancestors; cherish and challenge your children; care and fight for the poor and vulnerable; maintain a rightful relationship with the environment; constantly struggle against evil and injustice; and always raise up and pursue the good. More specifically, however, I tell them in my classes at CSULB and in community venues and private settings this also. It is the teachings of Frantz Fanon that each generation must discover its mission and then fulfill or betray it. I urge them to discover their mission and to fulfill it by building on the best ideas and practices of our past, by being rightfully concerned with the present and giving prolonged attention to forging a future worthy of them and the name African and human. And of course, keep the resistance fires of Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles and elsewhere burning.
LAS: A lot of people talk about intergenerational unity. Share with us why you think it is important.
DMK: Intergenerational solidarity is indispensable to our work and struggle as a people and community. It ensures the constant renewal and expansion of our ranks with new people, young as well as middle age and elder persons. And it aids in the transmission of our tradition of work and struggle with its knowledge, skills and experience. Moreover, it facilitates the needed ongoing intergenerational discussion and cooperation, leadership transfers and shared relational networks built over time.
LAS: How can we build this intergenerational solidarity which you say is so necessary?
DMK: If this intergenerational solidarity is to be built and sustained, it must be based on principles and achieved in practice. Thus, it must be based on principles and practices of: mutual respect; receptivity to each other’s interests and concerns; reciprocity; mutual caring for each other; shared discussion and decision-making; relational protocols; and shared commitment to our people and their struggle for racial and social justice and to push their lives forward.
LAS: Your conference will take place this weekend, September 24-27, what will be some of the highlights?
DMK: Our conference begins with an African-centered teacher’s institute on Thursday. It continues with a Town Hall of local and national leaders and activists discussing critical issues that confront us as a people and the world. There’s also an awards luncheon at which Dr. Molefi Asante, professor and chair of the department of Africana Studies at Temple University and founding theorist of Afrocentricity, will give the keynote address. At this luncheon a poetry reading will be given by Dr. Haki Madhubuti, one of the major poets of our time and publisher of Third World Press. In addition, there will be an Nguzo Saba Legacy Conversation with Dr. Julius Garvey, son of the Hon. Marcus Garvey and Mrs. Amy Jacques Garvey, discussing his father’s legacy and the struggle for his exoneration. Finally, there will be a dialogue between Dr. Cornel West, activist professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, and me, professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies, CSULB on “Remembrance, Reflection and Resistance: Mapping the Course of Our Current Struggle”.
LAS: Although you are known throughout the world as the creator of Kwanzaa, how else would you like to be recognized and remembered for all the things you’ve achieved?
DMK: Certainly, I would first like to be remembered and respected for the three roles my name Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga indicate that I have chosen and performed. They are: Maulana, master teacher; Ndabezitha, constant concern of the oppressor; and Karenga, committed keeper of the tradition. In addition, I would like to be remembered, recognized and respected according to the ancient Egyptian Maatian oath I took in becoming a Seba, a moral teacher, in the ancient Egyptian ethical tradition of Maat. It is both an obligation and constant striving: to be a good person in the world; to be a consistent servant of the people; to be a constant soldier in the struggle; to be a continuous student of the teachings; and to be a tireless teacher of the good, the right and the possible.
LAS: What should we remember most in our embrace and practice of Kwanzaa?
DMK: First of all, Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture celebrated by millions throughout the world African community. Second, we should remember that the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns are the embrace and practice of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles). These are: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia ((Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith). And third, these values are ways to culturally and morally ground ourselves and direct our lives toward good and expansive ends. Also, we should remember that Kwanzaa has both ancient and modern origins, ancient origins in the first fruit harvest celebrations of Africa and modern origins in the Black Freedom Movement.
LAS: If you were to sum up your teachings and the focus of your work, service and struggle, what would you say?
DMK: I would say I have acted according to my own teachings and philosophy, indicated in how I often close my writings and lectures saying: “Continue the struggle. Keep the faith. Hold the line. Love and respect our people and each other. Seek and speak truth. Do and demand justice. Be constantly concerned with the well-being of the world and all in it. And rebuild the Movement which prefigures and makes possible the good world we all want and deserve and work and struggle to bring into being.” And I might add this also. Remember, this is our enduring obligation: to know our past and honor it; to engage our present and improve it; and to imagine a whole new future and to forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways.