A family reunion is the setting for a boy's celebration of Kwanzaa.
|The brick house with the forest green door on Washington Ave. was usually very quiet on New Year's Day. The Grigsby family had only one nine-year old boy. His first name was Serengeti. Serengeti's mom liked to say, "You're a Thinker, Serengeti." And that is what Serengeti was doing. If you came up to his spot by the fireplace and looked at him wrapped up in blankets on the floor, you'd think he was sleeping. But then you’d see a smile was showing on his face, even before he opened his eyes that morning. He had an important presentation to prepare. Serengeti considered what he would hear people say today about living the principle of Faith.
The pounding of several feet, both large and small, could be heard coming from the hall. Serengeti's twin cousins had fallen asleep quite early and were placed in his bed last night. Serengeti grumbled over the idea of sharing his bed with the little girls. Then his Uncle Laurence said, "You figure this scout could camp out by the fireplace?" Both Uncle Laurence and Serengeti looked over at Serengeti’s mother then, hoping for a favorable answer.
“Yes, I imagine that will be all right,” his mother, Mara, had said. Almost immediately, she added, “At least get your gifts for cousin Kenne ready tomorrow – early… like, before lunch. Serengeti thought how much he liked both being on vacation from school and celebrating Kwanzaa with the family, which happened at night. He was a little sad to think then how soon the last day and night would go.
Aunt Georgia and Uncle Laurence only came to visit the Grigsby family occasionally in Virginia. Their family traveled from Michigan. Serengeti also had three uncles, Tom, Joe, and Kenne. Uncle Kenne was the youngest in his mother’s family, and was only seven years older than Serengeti. His uncles still lived in Grandma and Grandpa Johnson's home.
The family had gathered for a reunion and had spent more than a week together. First of all they’d spent Christmas Eve and morning together, and then preparations turned to the celebration of Kwanzaa. The traditions for Kwanzaa were not hard to do, everyone took part. Aunt Georgia presented each night’s themes and then she always explained them, or asked one of the others to give an example. Some of the principles were a little hard for Serengeti to understand. But all the family members discussed it to show its importance in the family’s African tradition.
“Serengeti,” Georgia questioned him one night. “Your mama has you do chores, right?”
“Yes, M’am” he answered.
“That is cooperative economics, dear. Ujamaa. She gets more done in her day because you agree to help her.”
“Ujamaa,” said Uncle Joe, “is my cooking pancakes with Grandpa Johnson at the church breakfasts during the summer. Or is that Ujima?”
“Everybody doing his or her part. That’s so important. It’s alright if we can’t always remember what Kwanzaa principle we are upholding when.”
On the day of creativity, Kuumba, Serengeti built a banner to decorate the wall. The house became more decorative that day, and the symbolic colors for Kwanzaa were used as much as possible. Reds, Greens and Black. Serengeti’s favorite color was red. To make his wall hanging, he draped a wide strip of African cloth with a pattern of orange and gold and red. He painted an image on brown craft paper of a storyteller and glued it to the center of his banner He circled it with words he learned at the Kwanzaa reading at the library: NOW the people; PAST the struggle; FUTURE the Hope.
Over the days and nights, Serengeti even learned words of an African language: Swahili. Kuumba. Nia. Ujamaa. Ujima. Kujichagulia. Umoja. He could remember the final day’s Swahili name - Imani. He still remembered attending preschool with a girl named Imani. Aunt Georgia agreed that it was a beautiful name. She spoke the Swahili name meaning Faith.
Serengeti had an unusual name. Sometimes he liked having an unusual name, sometimes he did not. Usually, he preferred to tell people his favorite color first thing. Lots of people liked the color red. Then he knew he’d feel more comfortable talking about things that were harder to explain, once he’d shared his favorite color.
Two nights ago, Uncle Tom talked about names. "I too was named after a river: the Tombigbee River." Tom nodded in a thoughtful way, before continuing. The children listened in awe. Serengeti assumed it was the truth. The children started chanting, "Big Tom, Big Tom!" Grandma Johnson wandered into the family room from the kitchen. She began scolding her oldest son, "That's not the truth at all, Tom!" What would your Great-grandfather – TOM - say?" The adults laughed. "Trickster," she wagged her finger, then smiled as she sat down and joined the family in the story-telling.
Serengeti and Kenne talked Uncle Joe into playing some football outside in the early afternoon. Soon it began to get colder and darker. Uncle Joe moved up onto the enclosed porch and sat, quietly watching the youngsters. Kenne and Serengeti were still having fun running. “Slow down, Serengeti!” Fast Joe shouted from the porch. “Today is the Day of Meditation – Slow down!”
The first day of the year has gone by fast. In time, it is nightfall, and everyone gathers back together for the final candle lighting. The men and the boys have spent most of the day together. Now all have been asked to sit by the fire burning in the living room fireplace.
“We honor all that have come before us and all that continue the struggle and look with hope to the future,” Aunt Georgia began. “After the Kinara is lit, we have presentations to make.”
“You mean presents, right?” stated Serengeti.
“Yes. Tonight there are important gifts to be passed on to you, and the girls, but especially Kenne.”
Georgia then asked Kenne to come forward and light each of the Kinara’s candles in order. The family went over the principles one last time together as he lit the candles for each of the past days and for that night’s theme - Faith.
This is what they read:
Umoja – (starting at the center black candle) signifies Unity; Celebrating that our family is together.
Kujichagalia (red candle next to the center) Self-determination; We each choose an identity that honors our truth.
Ujima (green candle next to the center) Collective Work and Responsibility. Recognizing what can be built up when we stay strong and work together supporting our community.
Ujamaa (next red candle) Cooperative Economics. Sharing the work - enjoying the harvest.
Nia (next green candle) Purpose. Remembering to keep reaching for what lies ahead.
Kuumba (outermost red candle) Creativity. Seeing all the beauty in the people and the world all around.
Imani (outermost green candle) Faith. Moving from our own hearts daily and adding joy in the process.
How beautiful the complete set of burning candles looked. Serengeti was looking at something else too. The Kawadi, the gifts that had been laid on the table, had been looked over by Serengeti several times during the day already. It was the same table where the Kinara for the candle lighting, and other symbols were placed. Now that it was the final day of Kwanzaa, Serengeti also wondered what good food would appear on the dining room table.
When Aunt Georgia caught Serengeti trying to keep track of the number of presents for each child, she had Serengeti count “having the whole family together for a week” as one BIG gift. Even so, his tally noted three each for the twins, two for Serengeti, two for cousin Brenda; Kenne appeared to have the most. The family members all brought or made gifts to support his continuing success in school. So Kenne was still opening gifts after the other children had each been allowed to open theirs. After Kenne opened a final slender box, he passed around its contents: a graphing calculator. When Uncle Joe got his hands on it, he joked that Kenne shouldn’t get Kawadi that’s electronic. However, their mother explained how important the scientific calculator would be in Kenne’s math courses.
Finally Serengeti’s moment came. He repeated after his Aunt Georgia a meditation in Swahili. He’d practiced with her, and told her he wanted to make his own statement. So he read from a paper he had finished writing before lunch. “Kwanzaa is a week we light candles in the Kinara, live our African heritage and bring tradition to our community.”
"Yes, yes! But, what... 'a week?’ What a year, ahead, Serengeti!" Aunt Georgia was happy. Everyone could see that he had been listening during Kwanzaa.
“Maybe by next year,” Aunt Georgia added, “we will look to Serengeti for a story.” Georgia then smiled her broad, jubilant smile, and nodded her head knowingly. Young Serengeti flashed a not-so-shy grin back at her.
Coming soon, a completed sequel