Now that I've been fishing, I'm in a bit of a more charitable mood and decided to write up something new that I haven't seen compiled anywhere about Kwanzaa. Those of you that know me, know I defend Kwanzaa like I defend my parents, sorta. That is because my parents have something to do with the creation of Kwanzaa, sorta.
The man on the left is 'Brother Damu'. We kids are the Young Simbas. That's me in the front. We are marching for the cover of Look Magazine. I would guess that's the summer of 67 and we are most definitely in front of Dr. Alfred Ligon's Aquarian Center on Santa Barbara (now MLK) Blvd. in Los Angeles.
It turns out that Damu died in '95. Unless the following excerpt (which was all I could get for free) is not an obituary:
Los Angeles Sentinel
Sam Damu, Longtime Angeleno.
Sam Carr Damu was born Dec. 15, 1930 in Dayton Ohio. He moved to Los Angeles during the summer of 1960.
After arriving in Los Angeles he developed an interest in acting and joined a black actors ensemble while simultaneously working with various political campaigns.
These early interests introduced him to a variety of people to include Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Ligon, owners of Los Angeles' oldest black bookstore and the Aquarian Spiritual Center.
In 1964 while taking a night class in Swahili from Dr. Ron Karenga at Fremont H.S., the Afro American cultural group "US" was formed with Damu as a founding member. He was the founder of the "US" Taifa Dance troupe in California. It was a great success boasting performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, several local television shows and numerous community and college events.
So Googling 'Taifa Dance' I came upon this conference program, and I'm going to see what I can get out of Scot Brown at UCLA about Damu and others influenced by the ideas behind Taifa Dance in LA. All this is part and parcel of the intellectual ferment behind Kwanzaa.
I cannot tell which came first for Damu, Taifa or US. But I think the simple fact that he saw his contribution to black society through the vehicle of dance as very significant. I would hope others stop and consider this before being cowed by the virulent diatribes against the founding of Kwanzaa.
Now that I think of it, I have another old photo which is worth mentioning.
This shot was taken in October of 68, the year everything was burning. The fashionable woman on the left is my mother, and this was the backyard of a friend of the family just south of Liemert Park. It was a community art show organized under the auspices of my father's little group. I helped build the displays which were constructed of 2x2s and pegboard, painted white. Again, this is the kind of black cultural power we were all about.
My point in bringing this forward is, as I wrote to Dr. Brown. As an original member of the Young Simbas, I have been frustrated by the distortion of the origins of the celebration of Kwanzaa which travel around the net around this time of year. In particular I am offended by the 'legitimacy' of Kwanzaa attacked through ad hominem attacks on the person of Karenga. I find these attacks a constant source of irritation, and I am motivated to fight back with some historical precision as well as personal passion. Moreover, I seek to express some dimension of the intellectual ferment of the black cultural nationalism independent of the individuals, organizations and politics of the time.
It is not my aim to be an uncritical champion of Kwanzaa. In fact I am particularly put off by its association with the person of Karenga as if its celebrants were victims of a cult of personality. I have my own interpretation of its value and applicability as both symbol and substance. Yet there is no question in my mind that it has transcended its origins. It is that transcendent quality I seek to preserve, and if I stand as something of a heretic, sobeit.
Here are a few more links from last year: