Tag: Kwanzaa

Maywood Kwanzaa Ceremony Highlights Day Five’s Nia, or Purpose, By Emphasizing Black Economics


Attendees at Afriware’s annual Kwanzaa celebration on Friday recite Amy Jacques Garvey’s “This Flag of Mine.” | Michael Romain/VFP

kwanzaa_123016Saturday, December 31, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 1/3/17

Dozens of people packed a second-floor conference room inside of the Eisenhower Tower, 1701 S. 1st Ave., on Friday night to commemorate the fifth day of Kwanzaa, whose principal, Nia (which means purpose), was celebrated in a keynote address by Maywood-born author TeQuila Shabazz.

The event, sponsored annually by Afriware Books — which partnered this year with Maywood Youth Mentoring — also featured Atiba Jali’s African drum rhythms, a ceremonial candle lighting and a book givewaway. The Dec. 30 gathering was Afriware’s 22nd annual Kwanzaa celebration.

Shabazz, the founder of the BRIJ Embassy for Black America and the author of The Neo-Green Book, said that her purpose is to help build capital in the African American community by emphasizing the importance of buying, and building, while black.

“You hear a lot about ‘buy black, buy black, buy black,’ which is good, but you have to also give black, too,” Shabazz said. “And time is money. We give a lot of it away.”

Shabazz, 39, worked for 15 years in sales at various media companies, including the Tribune Company, before she discovered that her purpose was beyond Corporate America.

“Today is purpose and I can tell you that it is quite fitting that I would be standing here in Maywood, the community where I was born,” Shabazz said. “My family is from here, parents went to Proviso East. Twenty years ago, at Afriware, I bought my first set of books that brought me into knowledge of self.”

Five years ago, Shabazz said, she left her six-figure job with the Tribune-owned CW TV network. She was stationed in Dallas, which she described as “a perpetual suburb” with no shortage of racial animosity.

The growing frustration and dissatisfaction Shabazz felt with her corporate job and the city’s cultural environment combined with life circumstances to draw her to what she described as another phase of nia.

Her best friend had been killed by the police in 2010. Her daughter, who was born when Shabazz was still a teenager, was about to go off to college on a full scholarship. One day, while driving in Dallas roughly five years ago, Shabazz felt tormented by the pain of being pulled one direction by a job and a culture she despised and what she believed was her true calling.

“In that moment, I swear to you, I was hit by a utility vehicle, smashed into a cement wall and was hit from behind by a little sports car,” she said. “My car was totaled, but I was unscathed. That’s what sent me home [back to Chicago]. I was in a job that required me to be in the field all the time. I’d just bought a new car and I was like, I can’t buy another one. So, I returned home.”

Instead of going back into Corporate America, Shabazz said, she started the BRIJ Embassy, which she describes as “cooperative of people who want to eradicate poverty and build wealth in black America.”

The cooperative has since grown into around 5,000 members whose goal is to “intentionally and strategically” eradicate poverty and build wealth in Black America.

The members, Shabazz said, collect receipts, conduct secret shopper visits, make phone calls and do extensive research in order to make sure that they’re supporting black-owned businesses.

In addition to having a presence on Facebook, the group also regularly hosts single-day shopping events for black-owned businesses, pouring thousands of dollars of money into the enterprises within a matter of hours.

Shabazz’s Neo-green Book includes about 500 black-owned businesses, most of them in Chicago, and is released quarterly. The book is an echo of The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, once considered the “Bible of black travel during Jim Crow.”

First published in 1936 by Victor Hugo Green, a black postal employee from Harlem, the Green Book was designed “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable,” according to Kathleen Franz’s and Susan Smuylans’ Major Problems in American Popular Culture.

Shabazz said her book “the next generation to [Hugo’s] book,” which went out of print in 1966, shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

“Today, we have to expose and highlight places that are safe to shop at,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “This is an economic war. There are companies we give our money to that fund the prison industrial complex [among other social problems that ensnare poor and minority consumers].”

The struggle, however, is real. That’s a dictum, Shabazz indicated, that holds for all ages, it seems. While looking through the original green book’s archives in New York City, Shebazz discovered a sad truth. Hugo was careful to add a publisher’s caveat to his editions, cautioning his readers that some businesses, while operational before the book went to print, may no longer exist after the publication rolls off of the presses.

Shabazz said part of the motivation to publish her book quarterly was the fact that the lifespan of many black businesses is short, making regular, frequent updates a necessity. In addition to going out of business, some enterprises may change contact information as well, she said.

But the struggle extends deeper than that tough reality, Shabazz noted.

The $1.3 trillion spending power of African Americans that’s often touted as a sign of economic strength, the author said, is less potent when scrutinized. The key word, she said, is spending.

“Spending power, spending, spending, spending,” she repeated. “Not saving, not accumulating wealth, spending, which means I’m giving it away constantly.”

Only around two percent of that black spending power, Shabazz said, gets invested into black businesses. The factoid elicited a collective gasp from the audience.

“That’s terrible, terrible,” said Maywood Youth Mentoring Founder Barbara Cole.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t support our own all of the time,” said Pamela Hunt, of Hunt Cultural Brilliance Group, who introduced Shabazz.

“We only get $26 billion of $1.3 trillion,” Shabazz said. “That’s not even a dent. True wealth is in ownership, which means that our wealth is reflected in our black businesses. Those black businesses earn about $186 billion per year, which is really sad, because we’re spending, like, 10 times that.”

Shabazz said that, of the roughly 2.6 million black businesses in existence, around 90 percent of them are sole proprietors making about $50,000 to $60,000 a year. That means, she said, “we have to increase the intensity of our support to them if, realistically, we are going to have them employ our young people. Right now, [black business owners] are only making enough to survive day-to-day.”

Shabazz suggested that the widely held belief, particularly acute among blacks, that black businesses are often substandard or not very professional often omits the responsibility of black consumers.

“Instead of complaining, contact the business and say, ‘This is what I experienced coming into your place. I really loved this, but if you changed this, you’d be exceptional,” Shabazz said. “That’s accountability, y’all. That’s reciprocity, y’all. That’s among the small things we can do, instead of making excuses all the time about what we ain’t doing.” VFP

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify statements of Pam Hunt. VFP regrets the error. 

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Maywood-born Author Publishes Guide to Black-owned Businesses, To Present During Dec. 30 Kwanzaa Event


The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, published from 1936 to the early 1960s, was responsible for helping black travelers navigate the country’s roadways safely. | PBS || Below left, Tequila Sahaya Shabazz has authored what might be called a Green Book for the 21st generation, The Neo-Green Book. || R. Amon Photography/Facebook

tequila-shabazz-photoThursday, December 22, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

In its heyday, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was considered the “Bible of black travel during Jim Crow.” First published in 1936 by Victor Hugo Green, a black postal employee from Harlem, the Green Book was designed “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable,” according to Kathleen Franz’s and Susan Smuylans’ Major Problems in American Popular Culture.

Circulation of the book may have been discontinued shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but one Maywood-born author says that the book’s disappearance doesn’t mean that something like it is no longer needed.

TeQuila Sahaya Shabazz, the author of The Neo-Green Book, said in a recent phone interview that her book is a successor of sorts to the Green Book.

“This is the next generation to that book,” Shabazz said, adding that her work, which was published this year and is now available for purchase online and at select book stores (including Afriware Books in Maywood), provides information for consumers who want to shop at businesses that are black-owned, local and socially responsible.

“The Green Book published places where people could safely stop during their travels,” Shabazz said. “Today, we have to expose and highlight places that are safe to shop at. This is an economic war. There are companies we give our money to that fund the prison industrial complex [among other social problems that ensnare poor and minority consumers].”

Shabazz, 39, worked for 15 years in sales at various media companies, including the Chicago Tribune and PBS, before retiring in order to dedicate herself full-time to guiding people on ways they can “buy, give, love and live black.”

In addition to publishing the Neo-Green Book, which she plans on releasing quarterly, she also heads up the BRIJ Embassy for Black America, which Shabazz describes as a “cooperative of people who want to eradicate poverty and build wealth in black America.”

Shabazz said that she and her colleagues log how much money they’ve spent at black-owned and socially responsible businesses. They also conduct secret shopper visits to stores and analyze a businesses investment patterns, cleanliness and customer service, among other baseline indicators that businesses must satisfy if they’re to be included in The Neo-Green Book.

Neo Green.jpg

Shabazz said she’s been gathering data herself for four years and has worked intensively at data-gathering with her colleagues at BRIJ for roughly a year. So far this year, she said, they’ve invested over $700,000 into businesses within black communities in metro areas across the country, including Chicago, Gary and Cleveland.

Shabazz will present a keynote address on Dec. 30 during the annual Kwanzaa celebration hosted by Afriware Books, 1701 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood. The event will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

The timing is particularly ripe, considering the village’s recent woes. Shabazz, who grew up in Maywood and the West Side of Chicago, said she was shocked to learn that Aldi was Maywood’s only full-service grocery store and dismayed when she discover that it would be closing on Christmas Eve.

How, she was asked, might she translate her philosophy of economic self-sufficiency to some of the residents of her hometown?

“First, you have to analyze your capital base,” she said. “It’s going to be hard work. It’s not easy and won’t happen overnight. But you have to know what human capital — what knowledge, skills, resources and tools — you have access to immediately.”

Shabazz said that Maywood residents should look to places in Chicago, such as sustainable farms and cooperative grocery stores, for examples of what economic independence looks like and for potential investment opportunities.

“How do we open grocery stores owned by the community and in which the community invests and receives the profits?” she said, adding that the key isn’t to protest or to pressure large private and public institutions.

“In the city, there are many areas without grocery stores, but people have created mobile grocery stores and opened up stores of their own,” she said. VFP

For more info, or to purchase Shabazz’s book, click here

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Maywood, Austin Communities Celebrate Kwanzaa Miles Apart, Together in Spirit

MaywoodKwanzaa2The Kwanzaa celebration at Eisenhower Tower in Maywood. Photo courtesy Chief Valdimir Talley. Below, a Sherrie Chapman poses with her merchandise during the celebration at Sankofa in Chicago’s Austin community held on the same day. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

AustinKwanzaa3Tuesday, December 30, 2014 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 7:52 PM

Since its creation in 1965 by Black Nationalist leader Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa has grown from an eclectic annual ritual to a nationally recognized holiday. The actual word Kwanzaa derives from a phrase in Swahili — matunda ya kwanza — which means “first fruits of the harvest.”

According to Karenga, the holiday is framed around a communitarian African philosophy, which emphasizes seven principles that he believes are necessary for black culture to thrive (each principle is recognized during one of the seven days Kwanzaa is celebrated between December 26 and January 1): Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Nia, or purpose; and Kuumba, or creativity.

Baba Eli Hoenai, a local musician and artist, remembers life before 1966–the year Kwanzaa was first celebrated. He was 17 when he first began seeking out who he was a person of African descent.

“I realized there were a lot of things I didn’t know about myself as an African-American and there was a lot I wasn’t learning in the schools,” he said during the annual Kwanzaa festival held at Sankofa Cultural Center in Chicago last Saturday.

According to Hoenai, Kwanzaa has done for a lot of people what he had to do for himself when he was just a teenager. One of the beneficiaries of Karenga’s vision is Marlene Dillon, the author of a children’s book called I’m Proud to be Natural Me!

Dillon was scheduled to speak about her book at a Kwanzaa celebration sponsored by AfriWare Books and Maywood Youth Mentoring, which was held in Eisenhower Tower in Maywood the same day as the event in Austin.

“I’m a mom of a little brown girl with curly hair,” the author writes on her website. “She now attends a multicultural school, and her gymnastic class this summer she was the only student who was not Caucasian. It is very important to me that she sees other children, teens, adults who look like her portrayed in ways that support her sense of self in a positive light.”

Hoenai, a founding member of the MUNTU Dance Theater, was on hand at Sankofa to lead the roughly 120-people packed tightly inside Sankofa’s Mandela Hall in a drum call.

“It gets the people fired up,” he said, noting that the ritual also channels the same deep source of cultural pride that motivated Dillon to write her book.

Lawrence Perkins, a school principal and motivational speaker, was standing at a booth in an area designated for vendors as Hoenai performed his drum roll in the big room named after South Africa’s late leader. Perkins was promoting his passion project, a children’s book called Lil Fella’s Big Dream: Overcoming Bullying with Determination.

Perkins said that, while Kwanzaa has done a lot to bring awareness to African American and pan-African culture, there’s still a long way to go.

 “We need to know more about our black culture and they need to incorporate more of African American culture into the curriculum in CPS [Chicago Public Schools],” he said.

Directly across from Perkins’s table of books, Sherrie Chapman, the owner of Sherrie’s Earrings and Things, vended her wares in symbolic contention with Perkins’s point. Chapman’s table was enshrined with various kinds of Obama merchandise, including a board game called “Obama-Mania: Race to the White House.”

“Some of my suppliers have already stopped with the Obama merchandise,” Chapman said. “People need to get it now, because it will only go up in value. He’s the first black president, so these things will be keepsakes,” she said.

A glance at the Obama mementos and the Afrocentric wares — there were even copies of W.E.B. DuBois’s classic The Souls of Black Folk — and it wouldn’t be so easy to distinguish where black culture ended and American culture began.

For Marseil Jackson, a local youth advocate and candidate for 28th Ward alderman, last Saturday’s event itself was enough. Sankofa’s annual celebration each year attracts a coterie of personalities and political cliques that span the ideological spectrum.

Mayoral candidates Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson (pictured below) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia were in attendance, as were a bevy of aldermanic candidates and a host of political figures, many of whom make it a point to be here each year — U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and state Sen. Don Harmon (39th).

“Of course, the first day of Kwanzaa is unity,” Jackson said. “So it’s nice to see us come out and celebrate something positive. This is a happy occasion.”

But for Hoenai, there are costs of constructing too big a tent.

Although he is proud of what he believes is Kwanzaa’s ever-increasing relevance among both African Americans and within the wider American culture, he cautioned against diluting the holiday to make it more palatable to the mainstream — lest it go the way of Christmas or Halloween or Easter.

“You always have vultures who are going to try to commercialize and capitalize off of what we’re doing, but those of us who know better will do better and keep this in its raw form,” he said. VFP


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