A Kwanzaa celebration in San Quentin turned into a call for responsibility and unity for 100 men, mostly Black prisoners.
Hosted by Darnell “Moe” Washington, the event began with seven men performing candle lightings for the common principles of Kwanzaa, a seven-day community-based celebration based on seven principles of living positive lives.
Thomas Washington lit the candle of Umoja (Unity), and read the principle.
After lighting the candle of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Jewel “Hank” Harrison gave a passionate speech regarding the understanding of self-determination and the consequences of not doing so.
Phillipe “Kells” Kelly lit the candle of Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), and talked about collective work and responsibility. His main point was that in order to work as a collective, we have to stop separating ourselves from each other.
“This is a serious problem, especially in prison, between the younger and the older inmates,” said Kelly.
Paul Hamilton lit the candle of Ujamma (Cooperative Economics). He spoke to inspire men to recognize the value of cooperative economics. He referred to the first president of Tanzania, who implemented Ujamma in Tanzania growing economy in East Africa.
Hamilton defined cooperative economics as: to build and maintain businesses together for profit.
Andrew “Drew” Wadsworth lit the candle of Nia (Purpose), and said, “I had something written, but I wanted to speak from my heart. Nothing is greater that love, and that’s my purpose.”
He challenged the audience to act out of love no matter what the situation.
Eric “Maserati-E” Abercrombie lit the candle for Kuumba (Creativity), and said, “We can use our imaginations and create something out of nothing. Find out what you’re good at and do it.”
George Red lit the candle of Imani (Faith) last. He suggested faith is not only tied to religion; he connected faith to hope, saying, “It is a blessing to us all.”
Darnell Washington said that it was important for the young and old to understand the importance of Kwanzaa.
“It is our duty to show the young what a good community could look like.” Washington said at the Dec. 29 event in the Catholic Chapel.
“There’s plenty of people who hung on trees for us. People gave their lives so that we have the things we have. So, let’s honor them by coming together, not just this one day, but every day.”
An original song, “Looking For a Change,” was written and performed by Flame.
Jeffery Atkins, keyboard and vocals; Terry Slaughter and Charles Ross of the Just Us Band performed ‘80s-‘90s R&B, and closed with “Long Time Coming,” by Sam Cooke.
A series of hip-hop performances, beginning with Maserati-E and Than Tran, who rapped about not being held back, displayed the diversity of talent in San Quentin.
Adrian “AJ” Johnson talked about how American culture shows up all around, such as on street signs and dollar bills, but African culture has been stripped away. He said knowing one’s culture connects with your identity.
“Every time you look in the mirror, you see your ancestors,” Johnson said. “They are still with you. They are in your heart,” he said while pounding on his chest.
Phillipe “Kells” Kelly was guided to the stage, blindfolded wearing a shirt with photos of prominent civil rights leaders taped on it as a reminder to stand up for freedom, justice and equality.
Arthur Jackson elaborated on the responsibility of older inmates toward the younger ones. “We have a responsibility to educate ourselves out of this predicament,” Jackson said, referring to incarceration. “This is not a call for a senator or prisoner’s rights organization; we have a responsibility. Responsibility is not just a word. It is an action. It is a form of trustworthiness to you on how to act.”
The celebration ended with satire by Oran “Artwork” Hudson, based on the hypocrisy found in American culture regarding women’s rights, equal rights, peace and respect.