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What'sGoin'On? BBSOstagesaKwanzaacoup

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

January 26, 2007

What happens when students planning a celebration abandon the tried-and-true formula? What if ambition overreaches against long odds? What if its staged two days before finals in a hall thats a little too large? And just what is Kwanzaa anyway?

Its the show that stole the semester, bringing a rare familial warmth to the campus atmosphere and tears to a hundred faces. And yes, this ones still worth telling about after four weeks.

Ive seen my share of wonderful cultural shows. Hispanic Heritage Months Main Event consistently tops the list for boundless creativity and energy;

and for a jaw-dropping spectacle of sheer beauty, nothing surpasses Mela. But this years Kwanzaa event, titled Through Our Eyes, pulled a surprise coup. Habari gani, Brandeis? Whats goin on?

To understand the odds the Brandeis Black Student Organization faced from the start, we must jump to the shows closing, where, in an impromptu speech of gratitude, BBSO co-president Shakiva Wade 07 spoke of mailing flyers after weeks of work and planning. With fingers full of paper-cuts, she overheard someone ask who would want to celebrate a fake holiday. I recalled peoples reactions to my Yiddish classes: Why study a dead language? Ouch. But sometimes pain itself becomes the launching point

The evening began on a somber note with a video of the Darfur crisis. This opener, a reminder of our generations resolve to end the suffering, also affirmed students commitment to something called Ujima, one of Kwanzaas seven essential principles, meaning collective work and responsibility. For an opening it was a gamble, and a courageous one.

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of family and community commencing on 26 December. It was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to reaffirm the bonds between African-Americans and their connection to African culture. Throughout these seven days, the Swahili greeting and question Habari gani? (Whats happening?) is answered with each of the seven principles.

The second of these was introduced by Dean Jamele Adams, who followed in his signature fashion with an emotionally-charged poem and a call to affirm ourselves as family. He didnt have to ask this time;

it was there in abundance: Umoja. Unity.

The Diverse Megahertz delivered comic relief as the nights emcees, and they needed no rehearsing to draw laughs throughout the evening. They then introduced a number by Brandeis own Hip-Hop Dance Club.

Friends, when I see students having such a good time performing, I know our generation has a lesson to teach about cultural openness. And maybe a thing or two about a principle called Kuumba: Creativity. I think there was plenty to go around.

Candis Bellamys interpretation of Kujichagulia (self-determination) was followed by Josh Simon 07 reflecting on the meaning of Ujima during his trip abroad. Then Voices of Soul delivered a medley of classics, including the late Marvin Gayes still-relevant anthem of peace and social awakening, Whats Goin On.

Claudia Martnez 07 explained Ujamaa, the principle of cooperative economics, with a thoughtful observance that individual privilege is not tied to a persons race. We are indeed privileged in just being able to study here, she said, calling for us to give back to the communities that have made possible our good fortune. In an era when most of us nonchalantly accept the rules, she remains Brandeis defiant voice of principle, ever asking why and compelling us to action.

Although she could also have been representing the principle of Nia (purpose), that one was articulated inspiringly by Taisha Sturdivant 10, who followed on the heels of the eclectic HipBonafide/Conundrum with Conglomerative Soul.

If Levin Ballroom had been a bit large for this audience, adversity turned to advantage during the intermission as the ample space allowed people to stand up and mingle without going outside. But their rave reviews were premature, as the show-stopper was yet to come

A talented Shaina Gilbert 10, with the help of a young girl, delivered a wrenching poem of desperation. Falling to her knees, she was joined by our little guest, who stepped silently onstage, touched her shoulder, and softly sang the traditional refrain, Hold on. Hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on. You could have heard a pin drop as an entire room held back tears. Indeed it seemed that the heartbreak of centuries and the aspirations of a people were crystallized in a pivotal moment by one tiny voice, and in it was affirmed Kwanzaas final principle: Imani. Faith.

Sheldon Best 08 lovingly portrayed his grandmother from Barbados, telling the story of how she cooked holiday meals for needy families in New York. There were, of course, other notable acts, and I wish I could give them all their due mention.

Following Shakivas words of thanks, the evening closed with the lighting of candles in a traditional kinara candleholder. But adversity played one more trick when it fell over, candles and all

Friends, what can I say? Im glad it did. You should have seen everyone move right in without a word, pick up a candle, hand it to a neighbor, and set things right again. Collective work, unity, faith, purpose: The principles affirmed in the glow of candlelight with quiet resolve;

the example of a people determining their own destiny, eyes on the ever-elusive prize of dignity.

Thank-you, BBSO, for bringing us Kwanzaa — through your eyes.

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Special thanks to BBSO co-president Jerome Frierson 07, without whose time and assistance this article would not have been possible.

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