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Karenga Energized By Travels

Published: February 17, 2014

Each year, Africana Studies’ chair Maulana Karenga is on the road, sharing with various audiences the philosophy, principles and practice of his creation Kwanzaa, a pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community and culture.

This year between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, Karenga, a member of the university since 1989, visited New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Rochester and Buffalo where he lectured, answered questions, gave press interviews, accepted requests for photos, signed books and interacted with audiences in various other ways.

“Each city was extremely welcoming,” he said. “The response was very energetic with overflow crowds. There were good questions and good exchanges about the vision and values of Kwanzaa and that’s what I like. I like to discuss the philosophy of Kwanzaa rather than answer questions like whether I thought Kwanzaa was going to grow as rapidly and extensively as it has. Those questions are good but the better ones are about what the values of Kwanzaa really mean and how to engage them throughout the year as a living practice.”

His audiences included all ages and ethnicities.

“The predominant audiences were African-American, but there were always Native Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans and European Americans,” he said. “More and more in today’s America, families are mixed, so that also impacts the multicultural character of the audiences. Also, public school teachers of various ethnicities who teach about Kwanzaa and want to learn more about it attend the lectures. I receive letters and e-mail from teachers across the country who ask me to send a note to their classes. And I get e-mails and articles on Kwanzaa and Kwanzaa celebrations from around the world throughout the global African community. There are so many I certainly can’t answer them without assistance.”

His audiences, he recalled, always to want to discuss how “to best understand and practice the Seven Principles as a lived reality.” “They use these values as a foundation and framework for organizing their lives and directing them toward good and expansive ends,” he said. “Others use these values also as the philosophical basis for their organizations and institutions. And some name their children after these values. Therefore, these values play an important role in their lives.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to present my work in national and international venues, like the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom,” he said, recalling his October 2011 invitation to deliver the annual Stephen Glanville Memorial Lecture in Egyptology for the university’s Fitzwilliam Museum.

At Cambridge, Karenga met students who used his book, Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt for doctoral work and study as well as a study group from London who used his book Introduction to Black Studies, now in its fourth edition, as well as some of his other writings.

“The audience was multicultural and very engaged and the dialogue was excellent and enjoyable,” he said. “Being invited to speak in the Stephen Glanville Memorial Lecture Series in Egyptology was a distinct honor. Usually, this is an invitation given only to Egyptologists. They invited me to deliver the annual lecture because they respected the rigor, originality and relevance of my work on ancient Egypt, even though I engaged it from a different discipline.”

Karenga Energized By Travels
Maulana Karenga

He recalls the first time he was asked to visit Africa to lecture.

“I participated in FESTAC, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977, where I led the African-American delegation to the Colloquium on Black Civilization and Education, chaired the panel on African Religion and Philosophy and presented a paper on Pan-Africanism as a global and transformative project,” he said.

His last trip to Africa was to Senegal in 2010 at the invitation of the Senegalese president to a select group of leaders and scholars, including Karenga to attend celebrations of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence and participate in a conference on African Renaissance. Karenga’s latest international trip took him to Paris in 2012 to present a paper on Kwanzaa, cultural retrieval and African renaissance at the annual Afrocentricity International Conference on Afrocentricity and African Resurgence.

To Karenga, the significance of Black History Month lies in its serving as a special time for African-Americans to come together to reflect on their struggles, achievements and movement through history.

“It is a time when the African-American community engages history from four basic overarching aspects,” he said. “We study and celebrate history to learn its lessons; to absorb its spirit of human possibility; to extract and emulate its models of human excellence and achievement; and to practice the morality of remembrance. The great civil and human rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, said that ‘There are the two things we all should care about: never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.’ Thus, to remember is righteous and to forget is very wrong.”

He concluded saying, “Given this, we continuously ask ourselves, what is our duty? And we answer: it is to know our past and honor it; to engage our present and improve it; and to imagine a whole new future and forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways.”