The Afrofuturistic Vision of Kwanzaa

Today is the last day of Kwanzaa. Habari Gani? Imani. Faith. 

For our family this ends a season of holidays that begins with a few birthdays and Thanksgiving, and includes the Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Year’s Day (though sadly I have forgotten the black eyed peas…is it too late? It might be too late.) None of these celebrations is particularly boisterous. We keep winter break simple. I’m usually teacher-tired.  I love winding down the year in a spirit of low key relaxation and reflection.

Kwanzaa in a pandemic has become an opportunity for us to connect nightly with my in-laws and our niece who moved to Florida two years ago. We miss them dearly, and during Kwanzaa, we zoom each night to light the kinara candles, read picture books, and discuss where we see the principles fitting into the current version of our lives. Next week, our lives will return to busy, but for this week, we commit to each other.

This year, a special treat has been tuning in at noon each day to hear Ibi Zoboi read from her new picture book, The People Remember. She intended for this to become a definitive Kwanzaa selection, and she absolutely succeeded. The illustrations by Loveis Wise are gorgeous, and the way Zoboi weaves Black history throughout the explanations of the principles is genius. If you are a parent or teacher or librarian of any background, please consider purchasing this book for your collection.

When I think about what Kwanzaa means to me and why our family chooses to celebrate, what comes to mind is Afrofuturism. Earlier this year, as part of the local and annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, I had the opportunity to take a writing workshop on Afrofuturism and its importance with William Jones, Founder of the Afrofuturism Network. Afrofuturism is defined as an artistic movement that re-imagines worlds through the lens of Black history, culture, science, technology and the arts. Often associated with science fiction, Afrofuturism is not about the fantastic impossible, but the imagined and absolutely possible. In the workshop, we looked at the history of Afrofuturism and how aspects of Black visionary culture fit alongside common literary archetypes like dystopian fiction and the Hero’s Journey. An Afrofuturistic vision purports that we survive historic and present challenges, subvert ongoing marginalization efforts, and thrive through our own creativity and self determination. This sense of innovation and hope is exactly what Kwanzaa is intended to inspire.

Kwanzaa was created out of the ashes of the Watts riots/rebellion as a framework for building strong Black communities that could resiliently pursue economic, political, and social change. It is centered around our children and instilling in them a sense of identity and pride. Each principle is a call to action. They represent the tools we need to manifest the future we deserve. They are an opportunity to gather, to generate the energy of the collective, and to cast our eyes forward at the same time in solidarity, community, and spiritual kinship. We cannot build together what we cannot imagine together.

If Kwanzaa is an Afrofuturistic holiday, then it is fitting that we end with faith. Faith in ourselves. Faith in each other. Faith in our children and the shared future we will create. If we can be for us, who can be against us? Where there is faith, there is no fear. 2022, we see you.

Seen at the DC Public Library

Ashé

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