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“I’m So Glad You Came”

by Allan Appel | Dec 30, 2013 1:41 pm

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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Poetry, Black History, The Hill

Allan Appel Photo Move over Yale, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. In the 12th century the University of Timbuktu, in today’s Mali, had 20,000 students.

“That’s the history from which we come.”

Gateway Community College Professor —and former mayoral hopeful Clifton Graves—offered that lesson as part of a fifth annual Kwanzaa celebration.

The event, organized by Elaine Peters’s Community Kwanzaa Association of New Haven, drew about 50 people, including teachers, artists, and performers, to the drum- and music-filled community room of the Courtland Wilson Library in the Hill Saturday afternoon.

This is the fifth year Peters has pulled together the wide range of groups in town who mark the Afro-centric cultural holiday created by black power advocate Maulana Karenga back in the 1960s.

This year the seven-day holiday started on Dec. 26, so Saturday was the third day. Each day the focus is on one of the principles of Kwanzaa, said Valencia Goodrich, one of Peters’s many helpers in the effort.

Saturday’s principle was Ujima, which means working collectively.

Goodrich said she discusses one of the Kwanzaa principles each day with her family over meals. “We’re Christians. We have a big Christmas tree. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday meaning ‘first harvest,’” she said.

The focus of Graves’ presentation and that of spoken word Afro-Caribbean artist Janice Hart was on the Middle Passage.

The older generation present wanted to convey to the younger the rich African cultural, artistic, and spiritual history before the arrival of colonialism and slavery in Africa, Peters said.

Click on the play arrow to hear Hart, whose stage name is Miss Matty Lou, recite “I’m So Glad You Came.” She performed the poem at the White House at a Caribbean heritage event in 2009.

When not performing on stage, Hart performs as an operating room supervisor at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

In her poem she deploys gripping dramatic irony to thank the slavers for coming to Africa and doing all the terrible things—because without that having happened no Thurgood Marshall or Barack Obama would have appeared on the American historical stage.

“Lots of times our young people lose sight of their rich cultural legacy. Before colonialism we had order, principles,” she said.

As always, the event was opened with a libation invoking ancestors and with the singing of the stirring Black National Anthem written by James Weldon Johnson.

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