Friday, September 5, 2014

Whatever you do, remember not to arrive too late at the party

My knowledge and experience with hip hop culture I must confess is woefully limited. For this I wish to make a sincere apology.

William (Bill) Keith, my father and an enduring archetype of the starving artist, as a painter, visual poet, and music aficionado took great pains to warn about the dangers of arriving too late to this party.

He felt that rap and hip hop was highly engrossing on every level.  Much like gospel music, the blues, jazz, and funk had once done, this new genre was richly chronicling life in a large segment of black America. From his perspective both as an artist, father, and spiritual teacher it would be a misdeed of sorts to completely ignore it. Though he has since passed on, I think that my father was most certainly correct.

Bill believed, that a person must strive to remain connected to a dual heritage of black culture and spirituality in an effort to prevent a loss of identity, character formation, and purpose.

Could it be because we can never really escape for long that nagging question of "who am I?" It seems as though whenever we manage to ignore this question for too long, time abruptly stops. There's no longer any sense of the past, nor of the future.  This dead space is otherwise referred to as the "dark night of the soul."

Dark night of the soul" sounds like a threatening and much to be avoided experience. Yet perhaps a quarter of the seekers on the road to higher consciousness will pass through the dark night. In fact, they may pass through several until they experience the profound joy of their true nature.
Many seekers would encourage the dark night experience if they knew what it was. However, to one engaged in the dark night, suffering seems unending. - The Mystic Org (
Once there, you are more or less suspended. I found it inordinately difficult to change coordinates, make progress or to be transformed. This is the great discontent, the prospect of indecision, powerlessness or  surrender.  

There I was at the station getting on that same bus everyday, repeating the lonely ride to conformity and complacency. 

The first sobering thought that would eventually come to my mind was the delayed recognition that I quite deliberately chose this course. But why, what was I thinking? 

It began precisely with a clear and rational mindset that focused on the scripted life of that of a banking professional, reserved and rather emotionally contained. What better way could there be for a former child welfare recipient? Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood. The greatest desire was simply to make good.

Unfortunately, as it turns out the choices that I innocently made, the methods that I embraced, and the people that I followed ultimately lead me away from the very things that came most naturally to me. The deafening sound that this has emitted is like that of someone attempting to bowl by using a cinder block. There's been nothing rhythmic or sweet sounding about it. Many things and people were on occasion left in ill repair.

Frankly, I should have known better. I was previously schooled by very knowledgeable teachers on the seven core principles of Kwanzaa (created by Maulana Karenga). Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise *Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:
  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed, corn (Muhindi) and other crops, a candle holder kinara with seven candles (Mishumaa Saba), a communal cup for pouring libation (Kikimbe cha Umoja), gifts (Zawadi), a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag. The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles.[8] (

Apparently, in choosing to attend what was once an all male, private, Jesuit Catholic, and liberal arts college substantially altered my earlier sense of sociocultural consciousness. The net affect was that I perceived myself to be more gentrified and thereby less Africanized.

It represents a personal failure on my part of being unable and quite possibly even more unwilling to resist the temptation of overzealous cultural assimilation and Americanization. 

More recently, things are starting to move again for me. There is a new dawn rising and I am truly anxious to leave the dark night with the hope that I may find my way back to many of the more important elements of relatedness that my father foretold of through his words of caution, exemplified through his very meaningful life's work, and through what has fast become a very well-seasoned and rich tasting legacy of Hip Hop culture. 

Of course, I hope very much that the party is still going strong when I finally get there. So wish me good luck!!! -JD