Over 100 San Quentin residents ushered in Kwanzaa 2019 with a night of enlightening and culturally relevant speeches and inspiring performances. The speakers and performers focused on uplifting African and African American culture and acknowledging the ways they have contributed to society at large.
The December 26 celebration was organized by Arthur D. Jackson and his wife Veronica, who assisted with planning. Speakers included incarcerated artists and social justice organizers who emphasized the importance of using Kwanzaa as an opportunity to celebrate Black culture.
Dejon Joy, the event’s emcee, led a group of brothers in the reading of the seven principles of Kwanzaa before the performers and speakers took the stage.
“Kwanzaa represents a striving for freedom, a celebration of liberation and foundational principles that we re- connect with at the end of the year to take us into the next,” said Alyssa Villanueva, a Civil Rights attorney, who taught a Black Studies workshop at SQ for the college program.
“Our minds—our knowledge—is power. To say that it is threatening is not a cliché,” she continued.
“This was more informative and entertaining than I thought it would be. I’m glad I came,” said Gene McCallum, an incarcerated resident, referring to the speeches and performances.
Villanueva also highlighted the role that cultural knowledge played in the successes of Malcolm X, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Panthers Party.
“The individuals and organizations who came before us fighting for our freedoms looked to these principles— and they still provide the basic needs to thrive as human beings.”
Hamisi X. Spears got a standing ovation after delivering a powerful rap performance with lyrics meant to inspire people of color to become more politically and socially conscious. In one verse Spears belted out, “66 never had a chance to pass. My brothers and sisters wouldn’t get off their a#* to vote—the final result, we lost at the end, and half our families are in the pen.”
Following Spears, Malik Ali, another resident, gave a moving spoken word piece and Rhashiyd “RawLMNO” Zinnamon performed a lyrical masterpiece titled “Grown- ManMusic.”
“Peace to you if you’re will- ing to fight for it,” greeted Yoel Haile, an ACLU criminal justice program manager, to the crowd.
Haile, who also taught the Black Studies workshop, established Africans’ impact on the world by pointing to Prophet Moses’ presence in Egypt, the first churches in Ethiopia, the Islamic migration to Ethiopia, and the African origin of universities.
“Part of knowing who we are is knowing who we were and who we want to be,” said Haile.
“We are now serving the enemies’ needs at the expense of the doctors, lawyers, and engineers we could be,” he continued.
Tammy Appling-Cabading, a volunteer, also got a standing ovation after reading an uplift- ing poem she wrote specifically for the event entitled Walk in Imani.
“Twinkle, twinkle all you stars, do you ever wonder who you are? You are from the sons and daughters of the African diaspora lighting up the world …, “ she began. “Speak truth, do justice, and walk in the way of righteousness.”
Gregory Morris ended the evening with a moving speech about the importance of historical consciousness.
“History gives us a means to judge our actions by our cultural traditions. …The way we treat the women in our lives doesn’t match with historical reality,” Morris told the crowd when we connect with the traditions of our forefathers we will build healthier relationships with ourselves, our family and all communities.”
“This was the best Kwanzaa celebration that I’ve been to,” said San Quentin resident Daron Charles.
“It was a culturally enriching experience that I will carry on for years. It was refreshing to hear accounts of Africans’ contributions to history, an honor to present the fourth principle of Kwanzaa and to share the meanings with everyone,” echoed fellow resident John Yahya Johnson.