Over The Kwanzaa Cliff—& Back

Allan Appel PhotoImani. That means “faith” in Swahili. It’s one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa that hit Clifton Graves, Jr. hard this year, then renewed his hope.

Graves (pictured at left) delivered a sermon on the Imani principle in our days as part of the city’s and the Board of Aldermen’s ninth annual celebration of Kwanzaa. The event drew 50 kids, officials, and African dancers and drummers to the atrium of City Hall Wednesday night.

Click here for a story about another Kwanzaa celebration held this weekend in Dixwell.

The annual celebration of African and African-American culture grew out of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and is 47 years old, according to Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, chair of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. Her caucus convened the festive event and asked Graves, a longtime civil rights activist and, most recently, mayoral candidate, to deliver keynote remarks.

He spoke of how he applied an abstract “Imani,” which is a capacious term embracing faith in God, family, one’s teachers, and one’s culture,” to an episode of crisis in his own life.

“My faith has been challenged and shaken” in the last few months, Graves began.

First, he had to endure the death of someone close to him who was both young and healthy and leading a virtuous life. He couldn’t understand why that happened.

“Also our faith was challenged ten days ago when babies’ [in Newtown] lives were taken away.”

Graves said he could make no sense of either occurrence.

He was in a quandary that began to be relieved when he began preparing for teaching a course on African-American history at Gateway Community College. He reread material about the Middle Passage and the history of slavery. That reminded him that every person and every generation faces challenges to constancy, to staying true to values and a sense of mission.

“I thought about the faith that sustained them, from Frederick Douglass to the great great grandmothers and fathers that we don’t know. Revisiting the faith of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand renewed my faith that a better day is coming,” he said.

Graves concluded with a gripping recital of “The Creation,” a seminal poem by Harlem Renaissance writer (and first president of the NAACP) James Weldon Johnson. Graves recited almost all of it by heart.

Click here for the complete text of the poem.

When he finished, he raised his hand, repeated “Imani,” and urged people to apply the principle on the holiday: “With all the challenges facing us, step back to see where we’ve come from.”

Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

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