Cultivating a consciousness and competence
Renown cultural nationalist Dr. Maulana Karenga is a professor of Black Studies at California State University-Long Beach, creator of Kwanzaa, chair of The Organization Us, and author of numerous books. He is also a co-convener of the Millions More Movement. He shared his thoughts on the Millions More Movement’s education component with Final Call Staff Writer Charlene Muhammad.
Final Call (FC): One of the demands and goals of the Millions More Movement (MMM) is quality education. As a veteran educator in African Studies, what is your thought on this point and how do we materialize it?
Maulana Karenga (MK): This demand and challenge rises out of the MMM/Day of Absence Mission Statement of 1995 and is addressed there. We said then, and must reaffirm on this the 10th anniversary, those fundamental positions. We must wage a two-track and simultaneous struggle for quality education in the Black community. First, we must “continue and expand our support for African-centered independent schools through joining their boards, enrolling our children, being concerned and active parents, donating time, services and monies to them, and working in various other ways to insure that they provide the highest level of culturally-rooted education, as well as academic excellence and social responsibility.”
Secondly, we must “intensify and broaden the struggle for quality public education through heightened parental concern and involvement and social activism which insists on a responsible administration, professional and committed teachers, continuing faculty and staff development, safe, pleasant and encouraging and fully-equipped campuses and an inclusive and culture-respecting curriculum which stresses mastery of knowledge, as well as critical thinking, academic excellence, social responsibility and an expanded sense of human possibility.” This is what we agreed to in consensus then, and must continue to advocate and struggle for now.
FC: What would a new independent educational paradigm look like?
MK: An independent educational paradigm has been unfolding since the 60’s. It is an African-centered paradigm, that is to say, rooted in the cultural image and human interests of African people. To say it’s rooted in the cultural image of African people is to say it is rooted in their life-affirming, life-enhancing and life-sustaining views and values and the practices that comes from these. To say it is in the human interests of African people is to say it represents the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.
Infused with this understanding, education becomes a formal and informal life-long process of teaching and learning to provide and gain knowledge in four basic areas: knowledge of the world; knowledge of ourselves in the world; knowledge of how to successfully engage the world; and knowledge of how to direct our lives towards good and expansive ends.
In a word, as we say in Black Studies, our aim is to teach and cultivate in our students a consciousness and competence, which reflects cultural grounding, academic excellence and social responsibility. The paradigm and the practice of it is undermined when teachers and students forget, dismiss or diminish the importance of the fact that the idea and production of a new paradigm was born and nurtured in struggle. And this struggle was and is not only for a quality and independent education, but also for a quality and independent life.
FC: Please discuss the purpose of the Nguzo Saba Conference 2005, which will be held in September.
MK: The conference is held every five years and brings together people from around the country and world who use the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) as value and goal orientation and philosophical grounding for their own lives, organizations and institutions and work. The kinds of organizations and institutions represented are numerous and varied and include: independent schools, rites of passage programs, Black student unions and youth groups; religious institutions, school retention, family maintenance and health organizations, economic cooperatives, political groups and cultural institutions. Representatives from these varied groups come together and share their best ideas and best practices, network and build relations for cooperation and exchange in various areas.
The Nguzo Saba are most widely known as the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. But more correctly, they are the Seven Principles of Kawaida philosophy, out of which I created both Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba. Over 28 million persons throughout the world African community celebrate Kwanzaa and use the Seven Principles to enrich and expand their lives and carry out their work.
These principles are: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).
FC: What advice do you have for our people in calling them to support the commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Million Man March and build the Movement?
MK: I would leave them with a quote from the conclusion of the Mission Statement of 1995 which says that, in joining this important project “we honor our ancestors, enrich our lives and give promise to our descendants. Moreover, through this historic work and struggle, we strive to always know and introduce ourselves to history and humanity as a people who are spiritually and ethically grounded, who speak truth, do justice, respect our ancestors and elders, cherish, support and challenge our children, care for the vulnerable, relate rightfully to the environment, struggle for what is right and resist what is wrong, honor our past, willingly engage our present and self-consciously plan for and welcome our future.”
FC: The Organization Us recently hosted at its African American Cultural Center a viewing and discussion of the Millions More Movement National Press Conference. How do you see our people are receiving the MMM here in L.A.?
MK: The people who receive the message at our Center and in the local and national community are receptive, but there is still a lot of work to do to build the massive March and ongoing Movement we seek to build. As we say in the Organization Us, it will take a lot of hard work rooted in serious dedication, discipline and sacrifice, for only work works and practice proves and makes possible everything.
Moreover, to build and sustain a movement, we must remember the long and difficult struggle it takes. Thus, as our forefather Amilcar Cabral taught, we must “mask no difficulties, tell no lies and claim no easy victories.” And again, we must constantly work and struggle to build the movement and the good world we want and desire to live in. Our foremother Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune called this “ceaseless striving and struggle.”
FC: Thank you.