Part of my Eugene Experience is mentioning observances of famous birthdays, like Martin and Malcolm, and getting the response: “Martin who?” or “Malcolm who?” Even mentioning Angela’s work on the prison-industrial complex, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and people saying “Angela who?” Black History Month grew from Carter Woodson’s Negro History Week, which was situated to encompass two birthdays, Lincoln and Douglass, so we would always remember the contradictions of America, who actually freed us and wanted us free, and who took the credit for freeing us, but didn’t actually want us living free, alongside him: a sentiment Oregon’s founding fathers could well relate to. I had a dreamlike reverie. See how many references you are familiar with without resorting to Wikipedia.
’Twas the first day of Kwanzaa, and all through the home, the savory scent of Nawlin’s style gumbo imbued each room. Grandma Dosha’s signature rum fruitcake was on the table, a hogshead cheese was on the counter, as well as a baked salmon and the remains of both a turkey and a tofurkey in deference to the vegetarian guests.
On the Kinara, Black Umoja candle burned bright, in hopes that Sankofa’s song would sound through the night. It was somewhere in the alam-al-mithal I recognized in the scene before me. How else could Black Santa, a godlocked Black Jesus, the griot Sankofa from the film of the same name, Grandma Zeely, Chinosole, Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka, Paul Robeson and The Preacher be sitting around the kitchen table in my grandmother’s house in the Haight?
I didn’t know, but as I shook my head to clear the disbelief, closed my eyes and took some breaths of Ruach-Holy Spirit. Intoning within my mind the Aramaic first line of the Lord’s Prayer mantra Abwoon D’Bwashmaya — Birther! You create all that moves in light.
Illumination revealed other rooms and spaces, not in the original building, which were filled with people and other beings, and the resemblance to my actual earthly childhood home ended. I thought: As a child, I did learn about Black Jesus, and Black Beethoven, here, why not Black Santa?
Isho nodded at me when I opened my eyes, shook his locks and laughed, saying, “In one sense for children, it doesn’t matter what color or form the spirit of giving takes,” nodding whassup and q’vole to Pancho Claus, as he walked into the room. “You’ve pointed out in your classes, the power of a meme does not lie in its veracity. People can childishly believe a fiction like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or white supremacy, until they grow up and recognize the reality of diversity without fearing being annihilated by it.”
Amiri, nodding around the room, quoted from his poem “Ka’Ba”: We are beautiful people, With African imaginations, full of masks and dances and swelling chants, with African eyes, and noses, and arms, tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place full of winters, when what we want is sun. We have been captured, and we labor to make our getaway, into the ancient image; into a new Correspondence with ourselves and our Black family. We need magic, now we need the spells, to raise up, return, destroy, and create. What will be the sacred word?
“Word!” said the Preacher. “Ameyn,” said Ieshua in his language. “Amandla!” said Nelson, in his.
I moved to the den where Martin and Malcolm were engaged in a chess game. Nzingha and Harriet Tubman seemed to be setting up a second one. Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Rosa Parks and Keke Palmer were playing a fierce Scrabble game.
In the backyard, on a half-court replica of the White House basketball court, Angela Davis and Michael Franti were playing against Kareem and Sheryl Swoopes. Barack and Diana Taurasi seemed to have next. The garage band seemed to be the Coltrane’s Alice, John and Ravi, Miles, Mingus, Mongo, Art Blakey, with Hendrix sitting in on a version of “A Love Supreme,” with Spanish Key intensity.
I started to walk out into the night; the Drinking Gourd hanging in the Western sky, my granddaughters sitting at the piano with Beethoven playing “Fur Elise,” with the Chevalier De Saint-George accompanying on violin. The ancestors, the living and the future remembering how to make our world anew.