Today (January 1) is not just New Year’s Day, a time for getting drunk, attending lavish parties, or reviewing top news or music videos of the preceding year.
For those who celebrate or acknowledge Kwanzaa, today is also” Imani,” the last principle of the Nguzo Saba and therefore the final day of the Kwanzaa celebration.
Imani is a Swahili word meaning “Faith,” and is described as follows:
“To believe, with all our heart, in our Creator, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
Naturally, this description provides us with an overarching set of guidelines to follow. As such, we need to set some parameters.
If you are an atheist, you obviously have no faith in a supreme being. And you are ill-advised to have faith in abusive or fraudulent parents, teachers or leaders. In fact, we should have little faith in those who chronically abuse their power, violate our trust, prove themselves consistently negligent or incompetent, or collaborate with our enemies.
The presumption is that we have faith in authentic and deserving people among us who work in our interests. In this sense, faith is a powerful motivator and indispensable component of Black empowerment and liberation.
And yet, we see all around us, indicators that our faith is often misplaced. Last year, some of us demonstrated faith in fraudulent and incompetent leaders, poorly planned projects, compromised politicians, and a flawed and pervasively racist criminal justice system. This is not the faith embodied in the principle of Imani.
This manner of blind and misplaced faith is deliberately and systematically instilled in us over the course of our lives. Our elementary and middle school social studies classes taught us to trust the three-branch form of government in the United States, despite the well-documented existence of bribe, graft and racist practices.. “Each branch of government checks and balances the other,” they told us, never pointing to the domination of corporate and military lobbies and imperialist interests.
Our places of worship taught us to put our trust in prophets or the Lord to solve our problems. They told us that “Prayer changes things” and despite troubles co-existing for decades alongside millions of praying Black folk, we followed the advice of our religious leaders. Prayer needs to be accompanied by work…
Adherents of New Age Spirituality wisely told us not to trust established religions or external authorities/interpretations, but to follow our internal God force instead. They implored us to trust that the “universe” would provide purpose, clarity and resolution, if only we got still and centered ourselves. Yet despite our ancestor invocation, transcendental meditation, use of crystals and positive affirmations, corporate power intensified as wealth, property and power became more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer greedy/ruthless conglomerates and wealthy families.
Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement – still seeking to realize Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Society” – told us to have faith in a racist political system corrupted by corporate donations and right-wing influences. Their reasoning had strong emotional appeal, but questionable understanding of political power: “We must exercise our right to vote, because our people fought and died for this right,” they told us. Unfortunately, we failed to create a viable Black agenda, strong lobbying, serious fundraising or grassroots organizing efforts, to put power behind our votes or the inclination to swank out alternative sources of political power.
In response to repeated (and increasingly frequent) acts of police brutality and misconduct visited upon us, so-called Black leaders literally begged us to trust biased prosecutors, juries and judges to indict and sentence murderous police officers, or to in their words, “have faith in the system.”
Faith as described in Kwanzaa does not encourage this type of non critical or counterproductive faith.
At the expense of sounding offensive, putting faith in those things or people who haven’t earned it, or who are incompetent, is not noble or commendable, but foolish.
Our loyalties, money and labor are precious resources that we must utilize judiciously. When there is abundant evidence of malfeasence or impropriety, we reserve the right to withhold our faith from the people/institurions in question, and the resources that go along with it.
The choice is ours to make, and we should choose wisely at all times. For example, we can support poorly orchestrated plans to create schools by those without the experience to do so and have never done so. We can give them hundreds of thousands of dollars despite unanswered questions, lack of transparency and poor planning. Or, we can display our faith by contributing funds and assistance to actual educators, school leaders and community organizers, not for schools they want to build, but schools they have already built. Likewise we can support a movement to create schools all over this country rather than focusing all of our energy on the creation of one.
We can have faith in veteran Civil Rights leaders who cut backroom deals with the white corporations they are supposed to challenge on our behalf, and who are documented agents for the government. Or, we can have faith in leaders with integrity who desperately need our support and cooperation to rebuild our communities.
We can have faith in compromised Black politicians who do more for others than we who were most responsible for their election, or we can choose to support those who support policies and programs that advance our interests.
We can continue enriching shameful Black business owners with overpriced and deficient products/services, who refuse to invest in our community, or we can lend our support and purchasing power to those who render excellent and quality service to our community because they truly value us in addition to our money.
We can continue being faithful to a sick and racist system of government and law enforcement/criminal justice, or we can discuss and implement community-centered strategies to protect our people.
We can continue waiting on public schools to properly and adequately educate/prepare our children, or we can challenge and reform those institutions while creating alternative schools, homeschools, and after school programs.
My hope is that in 2016 and beyond, we have faith in ourselves our value and our right to exert power over our live. I hope we have faith in deserving people, projects and institutions. I hope we become more judicious and by doing so, become more empowered. Happy New Year!
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at email@example.com.