New Afrikan Spirituality

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Soundtrack: Bob Marley – “Africa Unite”

For several reasons, this year has been a time of pretty intense self-reflection for me. One of the main things that I have been reflecting on is my own spirituality. It really dawned on me at the beginning of Black August that I had some cognitive dissonance surrounding my spiritual beliefs; meaning that I had some beliefs which contradicted each other. With me being the philosopher that I am, that was unacceptable for me. On this last day of Black August, I have been inspired to share what I have come up with on the subject of spirituality, as it relates to not just me but to all Afrikans in North America.

Let’s start with the term New Afrikan. The United States style of slavery was the greatest crime against humanity that the world has ever known. For three hundred years, people were brought to this country from all over West and Central Africa, and completely robbed of a knowledge of their history, their language, their families, their gods, and their culture. People from dozens of distinct ethnicities were brought to this place and forged in the furnace of oppression into one new people; a naturally Pan-Afrikan people. That is why we use the term New Afrikan to describe ourselves. It also explains why our spirituality and our culture is naturally, and of necessity, a mixture of practices from across the Afrikan continent. That is the nature of who we are as a people.

But let’s go back to before the Afrikan Holocaust. In the West Africa of the 1500s there was already a mixture of expressions of spirituality. We had not only the various kinds of Afrikan Traditional Religion, but we also had people practicing Christianity and Islam and Judaism or the Hebrew religion. West Afrika was the cultural capital of the whole world at that time in history. The world’s largest university was in Timbuktu. The world’s richest man (and the richest person of all time) was Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali Empire. People came from all over the world to study and do business with the people of West Afrika. Those visitors also influenced us in various ways, not the least of which was spreading their religions among us. (This is very oversimplified but I don’t have the space to fully explain the inter-cultural dynamics of 14th century West Afrika.)

Even earlier than that, starting about 70,000 years ago, people started leaving our ancestral homeland in Afrika and venturing out to populate the rest of the world. Those Afrikan people went into Asia and Australia and the Pacific Islands and the Americas and eventually formed very new cultures in response to the various kinds of environments that they moved into. But all of them maintained some of the influence of our earliest Afrikan human Ancestors.

So our Ancestors who were brought to North America to be made slaves came from various Afrikan cultures. And they were forced to abandon almost all of their various cultural traits. Give thanks though that some aspects of what makes us Afrikan could never be stamped out, they just live in our souls. Over the course of our sojourn in this land, we’ve also been exposed to people from all over the world.

All of our distant cousins, descended from those adventurous Afrikans who left home tens of thousands of years ago, decided to come to Amerika in the 19th and 20th century to take advantage of some of this land of opportunity that they were told about. And of course, there were those who had already been living in this land for tens of thousands of years before the Europeans came. So this people from all over the Afrikan continent came to America and got introduced to people representing all of the various ways of being human that have been developed on the planet. And we have taken all of those cultural inputs and filtered them through our unique Afrikan soul algorithm to output a new kind of swag that has taken over the cultures of the whole world.

New Afrikan culture, especially our cultural expression called Hip Hop, has become the dominant cultural expression for the youth of literally our whole planet. I believe that is because we are an amalgamation of the whole world, with some one-of-a-kind Afrikan spices put into this melting pot. So we have a vibration or frequency that the entire global population can resonate with.

But let’s remember that we started this American experience by having our cultural roots stolen from us. So we are still in the process of intentionally reconstructing who we are. That especially applies to how we choose to express our spirituality. I believe that we should embrace our various influences in how we reconstruct our spirituality. Let me reiterate my earlier point to make it more clear.

Humanity started in Afrika. For over a million years, the only place where human beings could be found was in Afrika. Afrika is the womb that shaped us as a species. At a certain point, we started venturing out into the rest of the planet and discovering new ways of being human; while we were simultaneously spreading all over Afrika and discovering various ways of being an Afrikan kind of human. After 70,000 years of wandering the Earth, all of the world’s various kinds of cultural expression were finally brought back into one place: in North America, but especially within the hearts and minds of the New Afrikans. The cultural boomerang that started in ancient Afrika went all around the planet and ended up back at the Afrikans living in America. We are the repository of the cultures of all peoples, from all eras, and all parts of the world. It is our privilege and our responsibility to take the best part from all cultural expressions and form them into one seamless, wonderful New Afrikan culture.

And we have already done so.

Many of us have latched onto the primary defining characteristic of Afrikan spirituality which is veneration for the Ancestors. The Afrikan view is that death is only a part of the cycle of life. Those who have died and gone on to the Ancestral realm are several steps closer to the Divine than we are, but they are also connected to us because they live on within us. So our best way of communion with the Divine is to maintain positive relationships with our Ancestors who are very much willing and able to serve as the bridge for us to the power of the Unseen.

There is also a large swath of our culture that has latched onto the traditions of Asia. One of the hallmarks of Asian spirituality is the focus on the breath and the Qi, or the energetic life force that makes us alive.  The people of Eastern Asia have focused on refining this practice for thousands of years. What is called Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about managing one’s energy to optimize health and wellness. New Afrikan people have been undergoing very serious study of these disciplines for many decades and have become some of the world’s greatest practitioners of modalities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and Tantra.

Many people are aware of the very intimate connection between New Afrikans and what are called Native Americans or American Indians. I’m not a fan of either of those terms but I’ll use Native American. The Native Americans practiced a spirituality characterized by a focus on having very healthy relationships; with the Earth, with all living beings, and especially fellow human beings. They had the utmost respect for the plants and animals that they lived around. And the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy served as the foundation for the United States’ founding documents focusing on liberty and equality of all people. The colonizers didn’t have any direct knowledge of what that looks like from their experience in England but the Native Americans were able to demonstrate what it looks like — which included having a great deal of respect for the wisdom and the power of the women in their society.

And of course, New Afrikans have been influenced in many ways, both good and bad, by the descendants of Europe. Slavery and colonization and genocide aside, the Europeans have one particular aspect of their society that we have benefited from greatly, which is science and technology. The European tendency to never be satisfied with the current state of things and to constantly push for more and new and better, has resulted in the laptop that I am typing this on and the world wide web that I have done so much research with and so many of the other modern comforts of life that we enjoy. Science and technology provides the way out of many of the problems that Afrikans experience, both within the continent and throughout the Diaspora. We have much to learn, and we have learned much, from the Europeans and their dedication to the principles of science.

An authentic New Afrikan spirituality, that embraces all that we naturally are, includes all of the above aspects and more. We should feel no shame about adopting what is viewed as an Asian practice or a Native American practice or a European practice. It is our job to seamlessly blend all of these traditions together in a way that properly respects and honors our uniquely Afrikan heritage while simultaneously embracing the uniqueness of our real life experience here in North America.

As a final thought, the primary guiding principle in how we reconstruct our culture and spirituality must be the liberation of our people from the colonization and oppression that we are currently living under. Any belief or practice which doesn’t help us move toward Self-Determination and national liberation can be discarded because it doesn’t represent the best part of what we have to choose from. We must have the intellectual and spiritual courage to examine all of our beliefs and practices from the perspective of “does this help me and us to become more free or does it make us more dependent on others?,” “does this make me more unified with the rest of my New Afrikan family, or does it make us more divided?”

Building a New Afrikan spirituality which acknowledges all of who we naturally are, while also pushing us toward greater levels of Self-Determination and Liberation, is the privilege and responsibility of our generation.

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QUEEN MOTHER

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Soundtrack: 2Pac “Dear Mama”

I want to shed light on two most unfortunate results of our 450 year sojourn as Afrikans in the wilderness of North America. One result has been that we don’t recognize how rich of a culture we have; and we don’t celebrate our successes and our great ones nearly enough. Another related result has been that we have adopted our colonizers’ attitude toward women, and therefore we have never given the proper credit to our Sheroes and Heroines for their relentless work toward carving out a space in this Hell hole where we can feel like full human beings.

Fannie Lou Hamer is one of those Sheroes who has been overlooked by our community. She is sometimes mentioned as a footnote in the Mississippi freedom struggle for her role in creating the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. But we don’t generally talk about just how big of a deal it was to challenge the Mississippi Democratic crackers in such an open fashion. Nor do we ever see Black History Month presentations about the Freedom Farm initiative that Fannie Lou Hamer gave her entire life to, working to ensure that poor Afrikan people would never have to go hungry. We have to do better about honoring her legacy.

Another of our Sheroes is Ella Jo Baker. Ms. Baker first came into prominence in the 1930’s as a leader of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League. The League was a national organizing effort to create cooperatively owned businesses and jobs with a livable wage for our people during the height of the Great Depression. Ella Baker later went on to be a mentor and counselor to the biggest names of the Black Liberation Movement. She was a field secretary with the NAACP throughout the 1940’s. In 1957, she moved to Atlanta to bring some organization to Martin Luther King’s new Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When the sit-in movement began in 1960 and evolved into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it was Ella Baker who taught them how to organize people and gave them the strategies that would make SNCC so successful throughout the South. Her influence was reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. We do ourselves a major disservice by not showering Ms. Baker with the utmost of praise at every given opportunity.

But I was inspired to write these words at this time because yesterday, July 27th, was the 119th birth anniversary of the one and only Queen Mother Moore. She was born Audley Moore, in 1898, in New Iberia, Louisiana to Ella and St. Cry Moore.  Moore’s parents passed away before she completed the fourth grade.  Following their deaths, she dropped out of school and moved to New Orleans with her two younger sisters, supporting them by working as a hairdresser.

She continued to educate herself, reading the works of authors like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. When Marcus Garvey came to New Orleans to speak in 1917, an 18-year-old Moore was in the audience. She was carrying two firearms because Garvey had been arrested the night before and the community was determined that no further foul play would occur on their watch. After that day she became a very devoted follower of Garvey. She moved to Harlem in 1922 to work in the headquarters of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Though Garvey was deported in 1927 and his movement waned afterwards, Queen Mother Moore was just getting started.

In 1933, she joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). She was inspired by their position that a revolution was necessary in this country and she was interested in the theory they had about the Black Belt South. At the time, leading Communist theorists challenged Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa approach by saying that Afrikans in America should take control over the southeastern portion of this country where our Ancestors had lived and toiled and died for hundreds of years.

Queen Mother Moore ran as a communist for New York’s state assembly in 1938. She began to have tension with the communists throughout the 40’s as she pushed them to do more concrete work around the rhetoric of a revolution in the South for Black empowerment. She left the CPUSA in 1950 and founded a new group, the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW); feminist and revolutionary and Black nationalist and Pan African.

In 1957, Moore and the UAEW began to push the issue of reparations for the oppression of Afrikans in America. They began a campaign to encourage our people to file a formal reparations claim with the U.S. government before the end of 1963 (100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation). To advance this agenda, she moved to Philadelphia and led the National Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee (NEPOC) in 1962. Tasked with planning the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Moore and her followers converted the commemoration into an opportunity to develop a national reparations campaign. The NEPOC developed a reparations claim for approximately 36 million dollars in back pay to be used for emigration back to Africa for those who chose that, and cultural and economic development for those who wanted to remain in America.

In 1960, Queen Mother started providing counsel to Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Even though she and Elijah Muhammad disagreed on many things, Elijah did adopt her idea of what has come to be called the “five-state solution.” Prior to that time, the NOI was very vague in their calls for separation from the whites of this country. Queen Mother Moore gave them a concrete solution of calling for the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to be given to Black people as a territory of our own, independent of the United States. Malcolm especially latched onto this idea and developed it even further after he broke away from the NOI, teaching in great depth about how land is the basis of revolution. That point became the prime message of those who sought to continue Malcolm’s legacy after his assassination; leading to the establishment of the Republic of New Afrika in 1968.

When a group called the Malcolm X Society brought together Black nationalists from all over the country on March 31, 1968, they decided to declare their independence from the United States, forming the Republic of New Afrika, and laying claim to the above mentioned five states. The name “New Afrika” was chosen primarily because it was what Queen Mother Moore wanted to call us. Her status as an elder gave her the cache to give the final word on what our name would be. She was also one of the first people to actually sign the declaration of independence. She was also the architect of the role that the call for reparations played in the overall program of the Republic of New Afrika.

Moore took her first of many trips to Africa in 1972 to attend the funeral of former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. During that trip, members of the Ashanti ethnic group, gave her the title of Queen Mother. Everyone who knew her enthusiastically embraced calling her that for the rest of her life.

She worked tirelessly throughout the 70’s and 80’s, promoting the cause of reparations and helping Black people to see ourselves as the nation of people that we already are. She finally began to slow down a bit once she turned around 90 years old. Her last public appearance was at the Million Man March, at the age of 97. She was one of only five women invited to speak at that historic event. On May 2, 1997 Queen Mother Moore passed away at the age of 98 from natural causes in a Brooklyn nursing home.

When she was asked in 1995 how she wants to be remembered, Queen Mother replied: “I want to live forever.” And it is up to us to make sure that she does indeed live forever. We can never cease to lift up the name and the spirit of our Holy Ancestor, Queen Mother Moore.