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December 12, 2002


part of the difficulty in representing kwanzaa is that people take it entirely too seriously, or dismiss it out of hand. yet the dismissals are indicative of the seriousness at which they expect to take it.

and so in my further investigation of the my family complicity in the matter that is kwanzaa, i relate some of my father's reflections on black society, the holiday and the person of ron karenga. but i will do it gently for reasons that i'm certain are compelling but as of yet unknown to me. ordinarily i would just post directly words from his recent letter to me, but that's not going to happen.

firstly, i was a little bit surprised to find that the nobody in the family were ever members of united slaves. i had been itching to confront the characterization of them as a cult of personality for karenga as a bunch of revisionist hogwash with myself and my family as proof. however there were no bowens in US. on the other hand, i myself was a member of the young simbas. my bright yellow simba sweatshirt was my absolute favorite at the age of six. who wouldn't be proud to be a lion? having recently found a picture of myself marching in front of the aquarian center, i've recalled a few choice memories about the photo shoot which landed on the cover of 'look' and one other magazine.

i hadn't thought about the simbas until about 1990 when i found that very magazine on display at the afro-american museum in los angeles' exposition park. the first and foremost memory was that it took a good amount of prodding for me to put on the angry black face most appropriate for a magazine cover. i was a happy boy, not an angry boy, and i never saw the simbas as some paramilitary group. in fact, we did very little marching at all, and none that i remember for any other reason than the photo shoot. for the most part, we studied swahili and the nguzo saba in preparation for the kwanzaa equivalent of the elementary school christmas pageant. i recall being the 'z'; we held up signs and recited.

this brings up an interesting point. for as long as i can recall, i've always spelled kwanzaa with three a's. but both my parents use only two. i distinctly remember that we added another 'a' to the end because each of us kids was to recite one of the nguzo saba in the first celebration. but if there were only six letters in kwanza, the last kid wouldn't have have a placard. so there was a third a tacked onto the end. bratty prodigy that i was, i got shunted into the 'z' spot because that kid couldn't wrap his mouth around 'cooperative economics' or some such. i wanted to be the 'k', first in line, but i ended up being the 'z'. so depending on your take, kwanzaa owes it's own spelling to deference to the needs of children and parents.

Posted by mbowen at December 12, 2002 09:26 PM

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