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Asking the Clergy: How will the Black Lives Matter movement affect Kwanzaa?

The Rev. William F. Brisotti of Our Lady

The Rev. William F. Brisotti of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard of Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches, and the Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock. Credit: Anthony Cacioppo; African Methodist Episcopal Churches; UU Congregation at Shelter Rock

Kwanzaa, the African-American history and cultural festival celebrated from the day after Christmas through Jan. 1, originated during the late 1960s Civil Rights era, and it once again will be observed at the close of a year marked by demonstrations against the oppression of Black Americans. This week’s clergy discuss how the Black Lives Matter movement will both inform and enrich Kwanzaa’s message, as Long Islanders of diverse creeds, racial and ethnic backgrounds follow its traditions while sheltering at home.

The Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore

Minister of Lifespan Religious Education, The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock

In these cold, dark winter nights our traditions call us to come together for warmth, comfort and community. Our faith is strengthened as we realize that we are not alone. While Hanukkah and Christmas are religious celebrations, they include distinct cultural traditions. Kwanzaa is not religious but a celebration of African American culture. As a home-based cultural practice, pluralist and accessible to Black people of all faiths, Kwanzaa is welcome in these times of sheltering at home.

Kwanzaa was conceived and developed during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and is now celebrated alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement can bring new focus for those practicing Kwanzaa. During this time when Black people are being killed and these deaths mourned and protested, Kwanzaa can give spiritual grounding and provide quiet reflection. Kwanzaa rituals can build a healing space for those experiencing racial trauma. Resilience and strength can be gained by celebrating Black survival and creativity. Kwanzaa is a ritual expression that Black lives matter.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

Kwanzaa has always been a reminder that African Americans can still celebrate our heritage and traditions even in the midst of struggles and hardship, trials and injustice. Racism has led to a lack of employment opportunities, unequal educational resources and many other manifestations of hatred imposed on the lives of Black Americans.

Celebrating Kwanzaa, beginning the day after Christmas, reminds us that Christ himself was born during times of oppression and vexation of God’s children. Kwanzaa reminds African Americans who we are as a people, that we are descended from a great African civilization, and that in spite of the trials that we go through, we can still feel a spirit of oneness, kindness and true fellowship.

Our ancestors struggled as slaves and then as sharecroppers and were prevented from enjoying all of America’s freedoms. Kwanzaa gives us the confidence to express our feelings about those injustices as it unites our spirits and our hearts. As the Black Lives Matter movement helps us to move forward in our goal of confronting and ending racial injustice, Kwanzaa offers a moment to stop and celebrate ourselves, our vision and our dreams for the future.

The Rev. William F. Brisotti

Pastor emeritus, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch

Kwanzaa is a holiday born of the experiences of people of African ancestry in the United States of America, but the observance has a message of solidarity for everyone. It is an annual "rebooting" and reconnection with purpose, which we all need right now.

Black Lives Matter arose amid the specific challenges of injustice faced by Black people in the United States, but it helps us come closer to understanding the meaning of the words, "All men are created equal," in our Declaration of Independence, beyond the limited perceptions of race and gender of our nation’s founders.

We all need Kwanzaa, which proclaims the dignity of every human, based in the seven principles of Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. It’s a celebration of family, community and culture, helping us appreciate our own and others’ families, communities and cultures. It celebrates true human solidarity. We must learn that whatever is not good for all, is not really good for any exclusive designation of "us."

Kwanzaa facilitates communication of vision, common interest and collaboration, smoothing the hurtful cutting edges between unnecessarily polarized camps in favor of the common good.

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