Unity Night of Kwanzaa 2016: Some Friendly Muslim Thought Leaders, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Unity Night of Kwanzaa, Tyler Texas—the first night of our seven-night festival. Furthermore, it’s the 50th Anniversary of Kwanzaa! How does Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga describe Unity? Unity invites an “alternative sense of solidarity…the world’s health and wholeness require education to know about others.” In this year’s Unity address, Dr. Karenga asserts, “For we come into being and best express and develop our humanity in relationship.” This reminds me of benevolence, the first of the five virtues of Confucianism (Ruism) Benevolence is a simple four-stroke character, a person standing next to the number “two,” symbolizing society.

Perhaps never before in Kwanzaa’s history have Unity Night presentations got the opportunity to repair an upset, divided country following the last election. In other words, our talks could go beyond the Afrocentric Black Elite. First of all, I resolve to stay positive and not bash ideological opposites. Who remembers that great soul song by the O’Jays, “Unity”? The chorus asserts, “Unity, we must have unity. For united we stand, divided we fall.” I’m going to focus on some great work of fine Muslims in this country and elsewhere.

Fareed Zakaria
Let’s start with my hero and favorite journalist, Fareed Zakaria https://twitter.com/FareedZakaria —the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN on Sunday morning at 9 am and re-run at noon. The GPS stands for Global Public Square, and he has interviewed many of the top leaders in the world. Since delivering this Kwanzaa talk, I accepted an invitation to his closed Facebook group: Fareed Zakaria GPS Fan Club! Of course, I was already getting Fareed Z’s Daily Briefings in my email.

Fareed is a Muslim immigrant from India, and he has a Ph.D. in Political Science from an Ivy League university. He also writes for the Washington Post and published a book, The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. However, Fareed isn’t a practicing Muslim but somewhere between deist and agnostic; plus his wife is Christian. Perhaps you could call him a cultural Muslim, but my point is that there is a continuum of beliefs within any religion from nominal to fundamentalist to fanatic.

Ulil Abshar-Abdallah & Indonesia
Our next standout is Ulil Abshar-Abdallah, and we’re friends on Twitter. https://twitter.com/ulil What is the most populated Muslim country? What Muslim country enjoys complete religious freedom in their constitution? The answer to both questions is Indonesia, and Ulil is the founder and leader of the Liberal Islam of Indonesia, also known as the Jaringans. The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is known for his love of Heavy Metal music–notably Metallica and Megadeth. Indonesia has plenty of popular native heavy metal bands too, such as Burgerkill. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jul/11/joko-jokowi-widodos-metal-manifesto

I just checked Ulil’s Twitter site, and his pinned tweet states, “Don’t let politics ruin friendship.” A pinned tweet is always first on your list. A few days ago, he retweeted an article from the British journal, Independent, that warned about Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar financing extremist Islamic missionary groups in Germany. A few weeks ago, I shared some news with Ulil and everybody else from the Saudi hashtag #EndMaleGuardianship. It was a cluster of articles about Saudi women battling for equal rights. On Christmas, Ulil tweeted a New York Times article about being okay to wish Muslims a Merry Christmas. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/opinion/why-its-not-wrong-to-wish-muslims-merry-christmas.html Christians and Muslims share some of the same miracles.

“What is Liberal Islam? (a) open to all forms of intellectual exploration, all dimensions of Islam; (b) prioritizing religious ethics, not literal textual reading; (c) believing that truth is relative, open for interpretations and plural; (d) siding with oppressed minorities; (e) believing in the freedom to practice religious beliefs; (f) separation of world and heavenly authorities, religious and political authorities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaringan_Islam_Liberal Islam is a “living organism that makes us feel enthusiasm.” When Mohammad said, “There’s no compulsion in religion,” it was in response to a follower asking Mohammad if he should go get his son, who had moved to practice Christianity–an older religion. Ulil cited a Moroccan feminist, who felt the veil was no longer valid, but it simply serves the political interests of men. Originally, the head coverings were to protect Muslim women from being harassed just to bother Mohammad.But lets keep the burka. I’ve seen some beautiful models wearing them. Furthermore, who could object to an American flag motif?

Unfortunately, Indonesia has radical Islamic terrorist groups, but the government works with the USA in developing counter-terrorism strategies in USINDO. Indonesian police have successfully raided terrorist training camps. Furthermore, the founder of a leading Islamist group, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) was imprisoned. http://www.usindo.org/resources/counter-terrorism-strategy-in-indonesia-adapting-to-a-changed-threat-2/ Ulil asserts that the roots of Muslim fundamentalism are a feeling of being left behind in science and economics and becoming spectators of Western injustice. Some Muslims protest the mayor of Jakarta–“Ahok” Basuki, a Chinese Christian.

Edarabia
Edarabia is the Middle East’s #1 Education Guide; helping students, parents and educators to interact and select the best institutions. Edarabia is based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—all on the Arabian Peninsula. https://twitter.com/Edarabia “Visitors can find the latest industry news, upcoming events, job listings, research updates, compare ratings, add reviews and engage with others in the community forum. Edarabia.com covers all areas of education including but not limited to universities, colleges, schools, nurseries, language institutes, training academies, music schools, online degrees and much more.”

Edarabia’s pinned tweet is a roundup of books recommended by teachers and their reasons why. They have a Paper.li account called The Edarabia Times. Paper.li accounts are a daily newsletter gathered from those you follow in cyberspace. Edarabia and I are Twitter friends too; plus, they added me to an influential educators list. My Paper.li account, The BohemioTX, is my pinned tweet.

On Christmas, I found an awesome article by Edarabia entitled, “Five Tips in Building a Community of Learners.” http://www.edarabia.com/110008/3-tips-in-building-a-community-of-learners/ It was largely a reaction to the possibilities that technology bring to the classroom. Here are the five points: (1) Use an innovative approach. (2) Embrace new learning opportunities. (3) Encourage a ‘community’ between your students. (4) Make learning relevant. (5) Let students know you care about them.

This article reminded me of including edited student essays in my Developmental English textbook. Two of the standouts are about a veteran driving tanks in Bosnia and an account of the “chopped” technique in Houston’s Rap music.
I sent this article promptly to an American education leader, Angela Maiers, the founder of the #YouMatter paradigm. Many of us love to be scholarly with our cyberspace friends and include links to articles and hashtags in our tweets and posts.

MENA-ICT
Let’s close with an account of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Information and Communication (ICF) Forum. https://twitter.com/MENAICT It’s the premier ICT industry event in this region. The forum is held once every two years in Jordan through the direction of King Abdullah II since 2002. King Abdullah II is one of our best friends in the Muslim world. A former front-line soldier, King Abdullah II supports our military actions in the Mid-East, avoiding front-line conflict, which would look like a Christian-Islam apocalypse.

“The MENA ICT Forum showcases the entire region’s ICT success stories, and discusses latest trends, opportunities, and future outlooks.” The MENA-ICT Forum launched a 1000 Entrepreneurs National Initiative this year. Israel is a member of MENA, as is all of the Mid-East and North Africa. The first Arab Spring country, Tunisia, is still doing rather well as a democracy

CONCLUSION
I hope my Kwanzaa Unity talk has shown that we have strong allies in the Islam world, and not just an odd mix of “frenemies” and enemies. We started in the USA with Fareed Zakaria before examining Ulil Abshar-Abdallah and his country, Indonesia; Edarabia, a leading education site, based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the UAE, and the MENA-ICT conference and its sponsoring group. Many Muslims are battling for progress in education, religion, technology, and economics.

“Kwanzaa Revisited, January 2015 at Tyler Spoken Word,” by Joffre (“JD”) Meyer

“Kwanzaa Revisited, January 2015 at Tyler Spoken Word,” by Joffre (“JD”) Meyer

Introduction
Tonight’s talk is going to be on Kwanzaa. I didn’t first learn of Kwanzaa when I taught at Texas College from 2001-06 but when I was substitute teacher in the Garland ISD back in the late 90’s. Since I usually did elementary, I ran into some Kwanzaa children’s books. A speaker on Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC this morning noted that only 92 of 3200 recent children’s books have Black protagonists, so it’s good that Kwanzaa is helping a challenged field of publishing. Kwanzaa was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga of University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) to improve Black self-esteem after the 1966 Watts Riots—a case of questionable police activity followed by riots and Black-on-Black property damage. This Pan-African cultural holiday honors the first harvest while bringing together seven universal principles: (1)Unity, (2) Self-Determination, (3) Cooperative Work & Responsibility, (4) Cooperative Economics, (5) Purpose, (6) Creativity, and (7) Faith. My four talks in Tyler were Creativity (2002), Purpose (2003), Self-Determination (2), and Cooperative Economics (2009). Before my “Kwanzaa: Summary & Reflections,” was published at Connexions of Rice University, I had three small articles published at two now defunct websites. http://cnx.org/contents/81536afb-abd9-41ba-a48a-09bd18c4c8ab@3/Kwanzaa_Summary_&_Reflections

Kwanzaa Expanding
Education World asserted how “to learn about Kwanzaa, the world’s fastest growing holiday, with these activities and Internet links.” In 2014, 20 million people are expected to celebrate Kwanzaa. http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson0.39.shtml Johannesberg, South Africa had some great themes this year. Unity Day at Noon featured open mic poetry and music with inspirational messages, performances by children and youth, and a Kwanza market—complete with books, jewelry, and fabrics. The focus for Cooperative Work & Responsibility was “Hip-Hop & Poetry.” Cooperative Economics examined “Resolving Hidden Hunger through Cooperative Economics.” Purpose offered “Women’s & Men’s Dialogue on How to Support Each Other.” Furthermore, there was a Pre-Kwanzaa event two weeks before the holiday’s start with story-tellers, dancing, drumming, and a pot luck banquet. http://www.theblacklistpub.ning.com http://www.ebukhosinisolutions.co/za

Critiques of Kwanzaa: A Hoop-Duh for Faith Night, Another Made-Up Holiday
Unfortunately, some are determined to criticize the very existence of Kwanzaa as a made-up holiday or for disapproval of Dr. Karenga as a young man. Dr. Karenga served time for an assault before turning around his life, and at one time proclaimed Marxist political theories. Some accuse of Kwanzaa of being anti-Christian.
I’ve seen first-hand the ease of Faith Night being led by a prominent minister locally. African-Americans are an overwhelmingly Christian ethnic group anyway. So you can’t tell me there’s something inherently anti-Jesus about Kwanzaa, which is why I’m talking in a “hoop-duh” voice right now. I owe this skill to my teaching colleague, Rev-Coach Robert Thomas, the pastor of Tyler’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America (CPCA). Rev. Thomas goes into the hoop-duh style at his sermon’s end to summarize and recommend, just like a good essay!
Let’s take an irreverent look at Santa Claus. As a child-less man, I can’t imagine what it must be like to look at your small child and tell the little one about a benevolent giving being from the North Pole who drives a sleigh with flying reindeer, moving at the speed of light. Is Daddy is having an acid flashback (lol)! At least when I was a wee child, I figured he started in the Eastern Time Zone and traveled west to get everywhere at midnight. But I fell for the story basically, just like everybody else. Have you heard the joke that a black kid questioned if a white man would climb down a chimney in his neighborhood? Then Christmas is held on December 25th to compete with some Roman Sun God even though the birth of Jesus was supposed to be in spring. The pine tree tradition came from German pagans and so on.

The Effort to Serve as a Public Intellectual
Before delivering my fourth Kwanzaa talk, I had the insight that Kwanzaa is the effort to serve as a public intellectual. I have been a long-time fan of Dr. Richard Florida of the University of Toronto—the developer of the Creative Class paradigm. Dr. Florida teaches business and creativity too. He asserts that economic development in cities depends on the Four T’s: talent, technology, tolerance, and territorial assets. A public intellectual brings his or her scholarship to societal issues outside of his or area of expertise. Dr. Florida’s wife, Rana, is a serious scholar too and is the CEO of the Creative Class. I’m honored to have become friends with her on Linked-in and Facebook within the past year.
Last fall, I stumbled onto an article by a former colleague of mine, Dr. Ibiyinka Solarin, about the public intellectual and one of his heroes, Wole Soyinka. http://www.gamji.com/article3000/NEWS3736.htm They’re from Nigeria. Let’s look at some highlights from the Dr. Solarin’s general description of the public intellectual. “The intellectual…is at once engaged with his or her society and contributes in his or her own little way to impart knowledge and lower the bar of ignorance. As a result of his exposure to varied reading and other cultures, he is impatient that his society ‘gets it right.’His restless spirit is constantly in turmoil, raising questions, seeking explanations, accepting no easy answers. While other acquiesce in the face of what is patently injurious to the interest of society, he raises his voice, he is not afraid of the powers-at-be…He knows that some of his ‘friends’ are in fact agent provocateur…who crave to be in the bosom of the establishment…because frankly, that’s where the power is.”

Highlights of Past Kwanzaa Talks
Creativity is the only principle that was both a talk and a published article at the now defunct Voices.yahoo, formerly Associated Content. It’s good practice to begin a Kwanzaa talk on a specific principle by referring to Dr. Karenga’s http://www.officialkwanzaasite.com Kwanzaa prefers to focus on the applicability aspect of creativity, to leave the community better than when you found it, and to repair the worn-out. Gifted and talented research lists four attributes of creativity: originality, fluency (lots of ideas), flexibility (adaptability) and applicability. The other three creativity traits seem to point toward the goal of applicability.
As for boosting Black self-esteem as an educator, I required an essay on Black History and began researching African-American and Pan-African history. At first I felt a little uncomfortable teaching a virtually all-Black audience about their history, but then I realized I could be saving my students from possible future embarrassment for not knowing about their history. This research evolved into a 40-something page chapter in my textbook and some annotated link pages.
During Cooperative Economics, I described the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program at University of Texas at Austin. It’s a consortium of several departments that work on solving societal problems, the opposite of ivory tower style research. Inadvertently, IE as served as a force for diversification for it draws minority and first-generation students into graduate school. They have a mentor program between graduate and undergraduate students as an introduction to the program. Later I would write an article that if IE was at UT-Tyler, it could help the city’s Industry Growth Initiative (IGI) Strategy #1 by generating more money for research. This article was not only re-printed at UT-Austin but also found its way to the Creative Class Library’s Education division of the University of Toronto where it’s had over 1000 reads. http://www.creativeclass.com/rfcgdb/articles/Intellectual%20Entrepreneurship%20at%20The%20University%20of%20Texas.pdf
Another tradition for me is to list the awards received by the City of Tyler during the Texas Downtown Conference. The dividing line between big and small city is 50,000, so Tyler is a big city as its population is roughly 100,000. 2014 saw Tyler Downtown win three awards, sharing top honors for Best Public Improvement—The Fair Parking Garage and Best Marketing—the African-American Heritage Trail. Regions Banks won the award for best downtown business outright. In past years, I’ve summarized the City of Tyler ‘s Tyler 21 program, a long-range plan for urban development and renewal. http://www.tylerpaper.com/TP-News+Local/208605/winners-of-the-2014-texas-downtown-association-presidents-awards-program-named

Twi vs. Swahili?
A new article by Columbia professor and Black conservative columnist, Dr. John McWhorter contends that Twi would be a better African language to learn than Swahili because it was spoken throughout West Africa ever since slavery from Senegal to Angola. http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2010/12/why_twi_is_better_than_swahili_for_african_americans_to_learn.html Centered in Ghana (then the Gold Coast), many West Africans spoke Twi as a second language also. Furthermore, the name “Kwame,” is Twi, and Kwame Nkrumah was the founder of Ghana. Many West Africans coming to America still speak Twi. Nigerian Yoruba is a popular language now but not during the age of slavery. Dr. McWhorter compares proclaiming the primacy of Swahili is like a Brit toasting with vodka and drinking borscht in honor of Europe! Swahili is spoken in East Africa, a region of emigration only in recent decades. Dr. McWhorter observes that Twi is easier to learn than Swahili. Nevertheless, most Kwanzaa celebrators have grown accustomed to Swahili for a handful of ceremonial terms, so it’s an inconsistency that here to stay. But if you really want to talk to talk to an African in his native language, your chances would be better learning Twi or Yoruba in most of the US. Nelson Mandela once wrote, “If you wat to talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you want to talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. “ That saying brought back memories of when I sang Tejano Karaoke at Los Desperadoz of Arlington on Friday night in Arlington and received a warm response from the Mexican-American audience. Yes, I taught English as a Second Language (ESOL) too.

Conclusion: Kwanzaa Exhibits Neo-Confucian Concept of Change and Some Ideals of Ma’at
To conclude, I feel that Kwanzaa exhibits the Neo-Confucian concept of societal change. One must have a sincere will before the societal conventions in order to keep the spirit of the ancients who created them. I f one feels that existing social customs or whatever is needed, then it’s time for a change or addition; that is ch’eng-yi to li.
Here are some of my favorites from the 42 Ideals of Ma’at—an Egyptian winged goddess that I discovered on Facebook right before this talk. Hopefully, I really live up to these ideals or at least really want to do so: I benefit with gratitude—the hallmark of my current church, Unity. I regard all altars with respect. I offer words of good intent. I honor animals with reverence (often bringing Pounce treats and cat brush too). I invoke laughter. I converse with awareness. I achieve with integrity. Thank you.