Chesay D. Colson
The Liberator Magazine 7.1 #21, 2008
The whole week leading up to the Ndaba I had a great sense of anticipation, that same kind of excitement a child feels on Christmas Eve with anxious joy looking forward to the moment they can open their presents. The Ndaba was my long awaited present. A Ndaba (a zulu word meaning “The Great Discussion”) was a foreign concept to me. I had never attended a discussion exclusively organized and presented for African (Americans) to discuss topics that held meaning for us. For that matter I had never attended a gathering to discuss issues affecting us as blacks where whites had not orchestrated and defined the agenda. Issues pertaining to blacks are typically lumped together with every other ethnic/minority group as a “human rights” topic. The uniqueness of the black experience is often diminished under the weight of the all-inclusive melting pot ideology of the United States ...
It seems the “we’re all in this together” mentality applies except when the hue of your skin is brown and your classification is African (American.) Blacks don’t blend well into the melting pot. While en route, the nervousness began to settle in the pit of my stomach. How would I be received? Would I be accepted? My connection to my brothers and sisters had always been a tenuous one for not being “black enough” on the inside to meet certain standards. Upon arriving, I decided firmly in my mind this would be an opportunity I would seize to solidify those fractured bonds and begin to connect by faith. I would possibly be rejected, but I would put myself out there.
As African (Americans) the isolation resulting from being disconnected from other brown people who emphatically understand and share each other’s struggles can be overwhelming leaving one feeling drained and confused. This feeling is all too familiar for many of us and often we as African descendants in America are unable to articulate the rage, pain and longing for something deeper to nourish our spirits. What those ingredients are that will makes us complete we are discovering with each new generation. While I could express disjointed indifference to the emotional state of being Black I couldn’t place one specific word on this emptiness that would sum it all up and make it readily understandable to others.
The core of who I am loves the beauty and the spirit of my Black people, but with very few opportunities beyond my family and friends to share in the presence of our strength, joy, and knowledge left a part of my being empty. As I stepped through the door way I was greeted by the smell of jerk chicken, buttermilk pie, corn bread, red beans, and rice. The tension I was feeling began to ease with the aromas of home cooking, smiles and the embraces I received. Outside of my family and church I had never been in a large gathering of Black people and felt comfortable before that very moment. As we ate, exchanged stories, and laughed the feeling of emptiness was still there. But with this encounter a bridge connecting me to my brothers and sisters in whose experiences I could share in, because the experiences were my own made the emptiness not seem so prominent.
We moved from our meal finally to our “great discussion.” We gathered in the adjoining room some thirty-five of us sitting in a circle to discuss “what spirituality means to Blacks in America and how can this be applied to cultural redemption for us as African descendants?” The ideals and thoughts tossed about ranged from the inspirationally revolutionary to the [“why can’t we all just get along?”] politically correct. The theme of our discussion shifted to Blacks taking accountability for educating ourselves individually and collectively in our communities without the expectation that others will supply us with the tools needed to accomplish this. I can’t define the energy generated in the room, but it was reminiscent of the Black Power Movement I had read about in books.
As the discussion progressed someone brought up we had forgotten the sacrifices of the generations of the past. My thoughts wondered to back to images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and Huey P. Newton. How would they have perceived the Ndaba? How would they critique this generation of Blacks? What happened to my generation? We collectively had dropped the baton one said during our talk. Through complacency we were failing not only ourselves, but also the generations coming after us. The depth of the Ndaba discussion was like the ocean deep, moving, and strong. The truth as to who we are and the nations we descended from is lost forever to a vast majority of us as African descendants in America as a result of genocide not only by middle passage from Africa and the cruelty of slavery, but through genocide by pencil our lives were irrevocably changed and erased.
What makes that profoundly sad is that many of us as have no interest in gaining a deeper sense of who we are. Many African (Americans) wear ignorance and arrogance as badges of honor. If you don’t know what these badges are allow me to clue you in on what these badges look like: (1) The fact that many of us continue to address and greet one another as “nigga” giving the explanation that this is a term of endearment exclusive to Blacks or that this word has no power, but think back to the first time you were called a nigger and think about how you felt, now remember all those before who sacrificed and died in hopes that this word would go to the grave with them. (2) We still find it difficult if not outright impossible to celebrate each others successes, but we’re quick to say, “nigga you aint no better than me” and lastly (3) “nigga I got mine, get yours” attitude. Not enough of us are reaching back and if we do we hold on long enough for a photo op or get our community service plaques.
What spirituality means for us Blacks in redeeming our culture cannot be simply expressed with a few words since we have our own individual experiences and as one brother put he “doesn’t know enough Black people to state what spirituality means to Blacks as whole” in redeeming our culture. What spirituality means to me is recognizing we were divinely created in love to protect and nurture the essence of one another’s spirits with the function of love being to represent God in truth. We are beholden to one another to teach, love, carry, scold, correct, enrich, cherish, and celebrate the spirit contained in each of us. Representing that love is not just tolerating or accepting one another, because as Brother Hendrix stated, "Neither tolerance or acceptance equals truth, but seeking to first know ourselves from an intellectually spiritual aspect in order to redeem our culture is a step in the right direction."
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