On Kwanzaa, and financing community.



Wanted to wait until after the holiday season to share this stream of thought.

It was only this past holiday season that I came to realize that there were Kwanzaa celebrations where attendees were charged an admission fee. I've never celebrated Kwanzaa personally. My mom is from East Africa (so that should be an obvious reason) and my dad was raised in the black American Christian tradition. So I am admittedly naive about certain traditions, like holiday events and their structures. I always assumed that Kwanzaa celebrations were like going to church on Christmas eve -- because the celebration was a religious one all were welcome and the only money you gave was to the church via donation, by choice. These thoughts came out of a conversation with friends about if we can possibly find alternatives to charging attendees a fee to attend such Kwanzaa celebrations, while still sustaining the event and raising money for the community:

"My personal take on doing anything is to try and make each element self sustainable... especially when it's a holiday event... churches dont charge for the Christmas pagent or for Christmas mass...

There gotta be folks willing to entertain for free, Dr. Karenga oughta be able to pay his own plane ticket in my humble opinion... or his ticket money could be raised ahead of time at other events leading up to the Kwanzaa celebration... as for the need to charge in order to raise money for community institutions like schools, I think sustainability for schools is a discussion unto itself but I can't see why Kwanzaa tickets should need to be sold to sustain a school... why don't donations suffice? I think we can do better... but that's just my personal take on it from what I've witnessed and tried...

I think what donations do is show a faith in the people... if they see the event as worthy, they'll support it financially... they raised a few thousand dollars in 10 minutes at the "great" debate I went to in Harlem the other day... so in a way, some people paid $50 admission... I paid $1...

I understand certain elders and communities got they ways of doing things. I just think some of the ways I witness are dated is all... and could use some readjusting philosophically in order to serve a new generation... at the end of the day I'm just sayin $10 is a lot of money these days for an event that someone isn't familiar with to attend. Now the folks who been going to the Kwanzaa celebration annually and know what to expect, they have something to gauge the worth of the event... but if one of the main reasons we do community events is for outreach, then I just don't get the admission fee for a holiday celebration.

These are questions we need to discuss. We've been talkin about this in board meetings with this non-profit whose board I am on and with The Liberator team...

My take is that I think we can walk and chew gum feel me? To the question of when can we start the party, I think we can start the party and start dancing now as long as we have a long term vision for how we handle the fashionably late folks at the door late into the night... and THIS is where elders have ALWAYS needed young people's critique. But of course there's this huge disconnect. I mean me and like 5 other young folks were the only folks at the "great" debate in Harlem who weren't 40 years old, plus.

They need help and they need our voices and critique. We just don't have regular access to eachother (for reasons varying from arrogance, to fear, to oppression...)

The best examples I've SEEN work, find ways to get their committed audience to commit... for example, those who are members of an institution or group like NAKO (National Association Of Kawaida Organizations) pay their monthly "tithe" or however often... and in the yearly budget the organization is clear about where that money goes... Kwanzaa celebration, outreach events, etc...

And maybe there are events that are closed doors where you have to be a member to attend... Malcolm X Grassroots Movement won't let me attend certain meetings for example... and I respect that cause I don't show financial commitment to them.

But then for the community holiday celebration(s)/events, it's a free event... they to Black August... because those who are members have already paid (throughout the year) and the "free" allows outreach to those who aren't members... at the end of the day the onus is on the loyal community members to plan ahead... that way the outreach can be done easily and still make economic sense...

Of course we'll not see a community "tithing" to a club or entertainment institution anytime soon... but you actually do see more bars and promoters doing free events because they realize that long term loyalty is more profitable than short term admission profits... (they also are good listeners -- a must in reaching people -- and know when THEIR audience has and doesn't have expendable income)...

Capitalists are patient than a mug when there's profit involved... I think we can be patient too by taking a donations strategy, but instead of profit, our motivation is building trust. That said, young people will do foolish things... such as give money to establishments that dont give a shit about them. But on a personal note: only on the rarest of occasions will you see ME at a party that has a cover charge and/or beer that costs more then $3, including tip. I'd rather throw the party myself or be at someone's house drinking a 6-pack. I'm not against the booty shaking girls coming with tho. "Girls who shake their booties" is probably more appropriate :) and i'm a man who shakes his booty, so we good (kidding).

BUT my point is that even among capitalists, there is a shift towards valuing people's long term loyalty in smaller economic doses, over short term profit in larger doses... meaning they'd rather have you buy two 6-packs of Heineken a year for the rest of your life, than buy one 6-pack of heineken a day for just one summer.

Another thing worth talking about is when we should cutback certain activities. A younger organization like the one whose board I'm on for example that has 5 board members, all young and willing to experiment... is much more willing to cut back a project if the organization is unable to meet the budget goal this year... whereas, I think elders (rightfully) can get stubborn and not know when to go on hiatus with a project... so they push the agenda for traditions sake sometimes no matter the economic reality... just another reason why some real cross generational dialogue is necessary. My belief is that at some point there has to be a space where words can be exchanged in raw format in a family (among elders and youth) without the daily (yet necessary) restrictions of etiquette.

In my mini-nation (my nuclear family) we always set aside these types of spaces... so unlike white kids yelling at their mom in the grocery story spontaneously... I had the opportunity maybe once a year to voice my critique in raw format to my family... after that opportunity passed it was back to respect as normal... but the respect was a real one because it wasnt a forced one...

And compared to other cultural programs $10 is below average. So I'm not coming from a point of total opposition.

Yet there's a whole segment of our community to be tapped into who have little experience with those other cultural programs so they don't have other examples to compare the $10 to... in those cases all that's perceived is "$10 is too much"...

And I'm definitely feeling that recognizing the reality of the economic situations our organizations face is vital... but we always gotta be creating the ideal in our minds as a place to aim to...

That said, if we can agree that no one should ever be like... "since this event isn't being organized in the ideal way I think it should be I'm not going to support it"... then we're on the right path...

I hope we all know that critique is always about improving, while being content or at least at peace with, the present reality -- not meaning that we are passively content, but actively content. When we are at peace with the way things are (something that faith provides) I think it allows us to freely share our ideas for improvement without coming from a negative or emotionally reactionary place... it allows us to be genuinely happy with what we have and at the same time be "positively dissatisfied" as the fuel for our actions of improvement...

Definitely ideally, just as we might say that musicians need to get together and create a specific space for hashing out a more cooperative and communal economic business model for being an artist...

Ideally I hope we also want cultural organizers to create a specific space for hashing out a better business model for cultural activities... the same would apply for educators... it just shows how much work we have to do.

I look at that work with genuine excitement, almost uncontainable excitement, (probably why you'll always hear my opinion. lol)

That said, I'm coming from a place of contentedness... like, I dont struggle with reality, I accept it happily and peacefully. I see our actions as just prayers for a different reality.

Sometimes our actions produce the reactions we want, which I feel are just the answering of our prayers...

Sometimes our actions don't produce the reactions we desired or envisioned... and everything is still going to be alright.

That's the beauty of it... we can't lose! And that makes me happy... and when we come from that place it makes us impervious to negativity.

So if we're always coming from that perspective when we share critique and feedback, it opens up new possibilities for what critique means... and what roll it plays on the daily... and how its perceived... and integrated into the regular functioning of our institutions... critique becomes like water... something that's so natural and necessary we almost begin to take it for granted.. and when we're not taking it for granted we're simply thankful for it...

I think we gotta make sure every thing (even us as individuals) has a little imaginary suggestion box attached to us and to our institutions... always happily asking for ideas and feedback on ways to improve...

We can be strong enough to speak two things at the same time... meaning, when we're disciplined enough, we're able to act according to reality AND listen according to ideals, simultaneously... and listening to critique is no longer a liability because it doesn't take anything away from our action.

Hence the complaint "they always talkin" becomes irrelevant... cause we can be always talkin AND always doin at the same time.

Kinda like a mother hoeing a garden, and breastfeeding and singing a lullaby to her child at the same time... she's confronting her reality with blunt and decisive action (gardening for food) AND putting her ideals in motion with action (breastfeeding) and conversation (the lullaby)... she's so skilled and balanced that she can do all three at the same time and sacrifice nothing! That's fresh! That's where I want to be and where I want us to be.

I say that to say... I take for granted that we all come from a place that recognizes that Kwanzaa celebrations are happening the way they are happening because that's the way they are supposed to happen, so far.

I definitely think that trust and long term investment are principles we all believe in... but I know from experience that harsh realities can alter our immediate adherence to our principles... for example, we all want to the event to be free... no question... but the organizers are the ones dealing most intimately with the harsh economic realities and as such they take action that might move us further away, for now, from a free event in order to sustain the event at all... sort of a maroon action, abandoning a village for the sake of saving the people -- the village can always be recreated tomorrow.

So there are those who know the reality intimately... and there are those who lean more towards the ideal because they are not familiar with the intimate... and they are able to cling towards the principle in large part because they haven't been "tainted" by the reality. I use "tainted" lightly...

The point is that we have to structure our institutions in such a way so that both roleplayers are included in the decision making process... it doesnt have to be directly for both... like those submitting ideas from idealistic perspectives probably ought not be the folks making daily decisions... but there needs to be a venue for that exchange to happen regularly...

When we continue to normalize these types of exchanges... it becomes like wearing woolly socks for 2 months (maybe thats a minnesota thing... lol) ... but the point is that the aggregate experience normalizes your skin to wool... to the point where you don't even notice it.

So truth is that in different institutions we'll get a chance to play different roles... with some spaces i play the role of the realist who has to filter the idealists' perspectives and comments we are constantly receiving...

Then in this situation... with Kwanzaa events, when I learned about the charging of attendees... I felt the role of idealist bubble up in me as soon as I learned that some of these events weren't free... it rubbed me like fresh wool socks... lol... and I'm sharing those thoughts that bubbled up in me because I care enough about the organizations functioning to share them...

When you don't care about the restaurant, you wont even bother leaving a comment, you'll just leave and never come back. And too many times we don't share the things that bubble up in us because we either don't care or we don't trust that they'll be understood... especially in a reality where the word "hater" is like the most used word in the black American English dictionary.

In our larger community, I think issues like economics -- precisely because they are so sensitive (the word "hater" is probably used most, in general society, when referring to an economic critique... hence why Puffy and Jay-Z are untouchable when it comes to questioning their ascendancies and "successes"...) -- but precisely because of the current taboo of talking about other peoples money situations... is why I think it present us with the BEST opportunities to usher/re-usher in a new/old culture of collective participation and ownership.

If Jay-Z is in my village then just like his child would be mine as well... so too would his economic business be my business, to a degree... if he chooses not to make his economic business my business, just as if he chooses to make his child not my child, then he's not a member of my community.

I think a exciting challenge we're faced with, with the collapse of the empire finally at our doorstep... and with things becoming more clear than they have ever been in terms of who is on what team... is that we are a generation for whom maroonage may need no longer be necessary... we have the resources and the access to take clear steps towards permanent development (aka civilization)...

Many of our examples in recent history are those of maroonage... but when there's a ship waiting to take you home, maroonage is now more of a choice than a necessity... we have the resources to go home now! I know those of us who have visited the continent and stayed with loving revolutionary folks, in these times, have felt it...

So now we're like this dynamic generation with all these examples and choices at our disposal... and it's up to us to choose between creating maroon institutions or permanent ones... and not that we'll be the ones to finish these but in starting them or bringing existing ones to this point... I think depending on which we choose, the nuances will be different...

In the maroon culture of our elders -- my mom for example... I've always witnessed "getting by with what you got" as a necessary reality... improvisation and a preparedness to flip the script at any moment in order to make something WORK.

But when you look at an example of permanent development... in my personal experience, this might be my pops... whose family has always had land here for as far back as the family's oral history goes... always had rural farming in minnesota... and animal husbandry... logging businesses... horses, chickens, etc... and a long view idea of building a strong family and community mini-nation... the type of flexibility and compromise of a maroon have been less acceptable in his tradition...

In contrast, as a maroon, my mom has always had a "get up and go when i need to" attitude... where pops and his pops has always had a "we're going to sit here and fight for this piece of land and to make this country into what we know it can be" attitude... because for him its his permanent development that he won't abandon because there is a family legacy connected to the land... whereas ma dukes is like the realist... who is like "if we gotta do this or that to survive we gotta do it"...

Pops is much less willing to be flexible and compromising on certain principles... even to the point of letting something fail if it can't fit alongside his land-informed principles and family legacy, in other words if something aint working it's that something's fault and that something must change or if it fails to change we must stop trying to make it work... whereas ma will bend-but-not-break in order to MAKE, something to WORK right now out of sheer will sometimes -- making something work out of nothing.

It's an exciting choice in my view... because as youth we are inheriting different types of institutions... like in my experience... I'm inheriting the maroon tradition of my mom, and the "negro-nationalist" (for lack of a better term) tradition of my pops and I'm going to have to work it out as I see best...

Maybe others are inheriting, in Kawaida and cultural nationalist organizations, a institution that up to this point has been a maroon one mostly... resourceful with limited resources... trying to function economically and efficiently on the borders of a foreign system... members improvising in order to make things WORK.

Maybe that will continue to be the functions of such institutions... or maybe it will change... at the end of the day it's going to be up to us, the inheritors, to decide which directions we want/need to bring our mothers and fathers institutions in... and we'll need much more conversations like this to make wise decisions... and as we continue to experience collapse and we continue to bridge and build relationships between maroon communities and permanent development communities... we'll need to be constantly assessing which are which so we stay clear on the rolls and expectations of certain institutions... every institution aint meant to do everything but every institution must do something... and in order to be clear as a global community... on what those "somethings" are, consistent inventory will continue to be hugely important...

My friend wrote me and said, "On that note, I propose we set up some kind of meeting with representatives of community organizations that we know of in the area to discuss what we all are doing, and how we can work together."

And I agree wholeheartedly. The need for this was more than apparent at the "great" debate in Harlem. If I came away with anything that night, this was it. If this is the endpoint of this specific discussion, I feel fulfilled.

That said... all I need is a when and a where and I'm there...

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