For nearly a week at the end of the last calendar year, Pan Africanists started their day by saying “Habari Gani?,” the Swahili phrase for “What news?” as part of the worldwide Kwanzaa celebration that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Since Kwanzaa’s inception under the auspices of Dr. Maulana Karenga and the US Organization in the mid-1960s, people of African descent have revamped what has become an overly commercialized holiday season by reflecting on the Nguzo Saba, or “the seven principles.” During community gatherings, observers take part in African first fruit traditions and pay homage to familial and communal ancestors. The typical Kwanzaa alter includes a kinara (candle holder) with seven candles, each of which represents a daily principle, the Garvey flag, the banner of African people scattered worldwide, a cup for the pouring of libations, and an assortment of fruits.
Such customs allow millions of African families the opportunity to connect with their roots and affirm the values that guaranteed our survival through Maafa – the Swahili term for the Middle Passage, also known as the Black Holocaust – and subsequent atrocities. In an era where white supremacy has an inconspicuous grip on all aspects of our lives, the seven principles of Kwanzaa serve as the perfect prescription for the African race’s uprising against systemic racism.
I’ve applied these ideas in my personal and professional life since celebrating Kwanzaa for the first time in 2014, mostly through my work with the African-centered grassroots news brand that many have come to know as AllEyesOnDC.
This project, which started as a blog in 2012, reflects my yearning to raise the African consciousness among black Washingtonians and gain editorial independence in a news industry that shuns the comprehensive coverage of African-centered news. Since revamping AllEyesOnDC last April, offerings have expanded to include in-depth news pieces, editorials, film, radio, and community news events. In my journey as a grassroots journalist, I’ve provided a platform to expose the work of the best and brightest in our community while connecting singular news events to larger, multifaceted issues that affect Africans across the Diaspora.
Followers of the AllEyesOnDC movement have seen the personal side to my journalism, learning that, just like them, I don’t have all of the answers to the problems we face as a worldwide African community. However, I hope to spark further discussion and action.
It’s no different in this timely post.
The following is an outline of each Kwanzaa principle and how I’ve used that in furthering my craft as a journalist. I’m a work in progress so it’s imperative that I apply these principles every day of the year, and not just during Kwanzaa.
Umoja (unity) – AllEyesOnDC functions with the understanding that regardless of socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, political ideology, or any other polarizing classification, people of African descent combat white supremacy in some form or fashion.
As the late-great warrior-scholar Dr. Frances Cress Welsing wrote in The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors, white supremacy dictates many aspects of our existence – including economics, education, labor, law, and sex. In contextualizing the news events of the day, AllEyesOnDC helps viewers look beyond singular occurrences and understand the forces collectively working against our interests. In pulling the wool over the sheep’s eye, I’m showing similarities between our struggles in America to that of Africans around the world.
While I try to stay away from themes, each AllEyesOnDC show and function ends with calls for true African unification – at the communal level and globally. We’re only a racial “minority” in name. When we work in our interests and that other black people primarily, anything is possible.
In 2015, AllEyesOnDC collaborated with local institutions, entrepreneurs, artists, and community activists with the understanding that had something to offer one another. I gave them a platform to expand their brand, and they provided examples of leadership from which I used as inspiration to further my goal as a grassroots journalist and entrepreneur. I’ve taken many of those relationships with me in the New Year, building a rapport that will make AllEyesOnDC a neighborhood institution, not only in name.
Kujichagulia (self-determination) – Since my days as a journalism student at The George Washington University, I’ve wanted nothing more than to give black people a voice. That passion led to a revamp of the then-called Black Ace newsletter to what’s now known as the ACE Magazine.
Leading that movement led to professional opportunities at NBC Universal, National Public Radio, The Washington Informer, and ThinkProgress. Though I’ve come to value each experience, I truly saw the power of black self-determination at the Informer, a black woman-owned media outlet based in Congress Heights in Southeast. There, I grew under the tutelage of the late Denise W. Barnes who allowed me to pursue my interests and show a side of D.C. rarely seen in other newspapers.
I tried employing the streetwise interviewing tactics I learned at the Informer as a health reporter at ThinkProgress, what many know as a “nontraditional” outlet. Even there, I found some difficulty pitching African-centered pieces, partly because few people on staff understood the value of black self-determination as it related to abstaining from international aid, defending one’s self from a police force bent on destroying black lives, and taking on traditional medical practices. Reading an anthology of Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s speeches on the way to work every morning didn’t help quell my passion for telling Afrocentric news.
It soon became time to leave that job and pursue AllEyesOnDC full time. A week after my resignation, I boarded a plane to Ethiopia, a beacon of self-determination that many know as the Cradle of Civilization. There, I met men and women who found their own way and maintained a sense of calm even as they lived in abject poverty.
By standing on my own two feet through AllEyesOnDC, I’m ensuring that the news content I produce best represents me and the thoughts of the people I interview. In refusing to work for major corporations, I’m asserting my independence in a country where black people are often discouraged from opening their own businesses. I’m acting in the manner that Garvey and other Pan-Africanists have touted. I believe it’s the only way that I can truly be free as a journalist. I haven’t been happier since going into my own full time and that comes from finally becoming a master of my destiny.
Ujima (collective work and responsibility) – The best, and probably worst, thing about being a journalist is personally connecting with your subject matter, especially when it piques your interest. In the course of my short career, I’ve learned so much about African culture and history. At the same time, I’ve internalized some of the suffering I’ve seen firsthand or vicariously through the anecdotes my interviewees have given.
The more articles I write, the more I grow cynical about life in Babylon. In my eyes, politicians become less trustworthy. Sweeping government programs always come with a catch. In jumping between my professional and personal life, I find difficulty to expect good things to happen, or at least trust the statements of authority figures. Though it has been a struggle maintaining some childlike innocence in my awakening, my dilemma is definitely a testament to the importance of what I and other information seekers do.
In part, AllEyesOnDC owes its success to the communal manner in which we pursue our stories and address our audience. As a neighborhood institution, our viewers and listeners count as our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so forth. In true African fashion, we look after each other like family. Without grassroots news, the powers that be would maintain their hold on the masses. They would also continue their crusade against information, working their hardest to bury important news and critical voices needed to push revolution forward. As a member of the worldwide African family, I strive to work collectively with other power players and improve my corner of the earth. That has especially been the case in the months since taking on AllEyesOnDC full time. It’s no longer a job. Rather, it’s what I like to call “soul work” – working with other souls to make the world a better place.
Ujamaa (cooperative economics) – This Kwanzaa principle pretty much speaks for itself. Most, if not all, parts of the AllEyesOnDC brand come from black-owned institutions. A black man designed the logo. A black woman catered our events last spring. A black man runs the company that produces our shirts, pins, and other promotional material. We host events in venues owned by or managed by black people. The businesses and people we feature on the AllEyesOnDC program are of African descent.
This didn’t occur by happenstance. It’s all part of an effort to lead by example and show how true unity looks when economics are involved. The saga continues in the New Year with the opening of a business account in a black-owned bank. Some contend that primarily conducting business with people of African descent does nothing to bring forth social justice. I respectfully disagree, arguing that nothing else can extinguish the economic power of violent police forces and genocidal figure heads than a mass consolidation of black finances. A system like one that keeps the United States afloat doesn’t have much of a conscious. Just as it respects the dollar bill, I must respect my money and use it so it works in my favor and that of my brothers and sisters.
Nia (purpose) – This Kwanzaa principle shares some ties with Kujichagulia in the sense that my purpose differs from that of journalists who cover Beltway politics, celebrities, and public figures. Since the expansion of social media and fall of traditional newspapers, few people respect the power of real news. In my work with traditional outlets, I’ve had to forego my serious news pitches for “fluffier” pieces. Those were the moments that chipped at my soul. I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. I knew I had a higher calling as reporter.
That’s why I consider myself not only a reporter, but a grassroots journalist. In improving my craft at Informer and making the subject matter more African-centered, I carved out a niche as a neighborhood griot.
Believe it or not, I had visions of doing this during my days as an undergraduate. Conflicts would later surface in my journalism career when I had to decide whether or not to stay in the industry. At the time of my quandary, I was finishing up a public policy graduate program. Working in the public sector as a policy analyst seemed like a more lucrative choice. Even then, I knew I had no business in anyone’s office crunching numbers and writing reports. I found great mental stimulation in talking to people and making sense of their life so that others could understand it.
Nearly two years after reaching that crossroad, I feel more than comfortable in my current position. It’s not lucrative at all. I probably won’t be on the mainstream news networks anytime soon. However, none of that matters. In creating my own path, I finally found the job that I love more than anything. In 2016, I will use the AllEyesOnDC platform to grow in my role and pave the way for more opportunities that I couldn’t have found working among the Beltway news folk.
Kuumba (creativity) — It’s not often people encounter the concept of “grassroots news.” While that would be a problem for most, this reality allows me to present information in a totally unorthodox way. In 2015, I broke the rules and showed my friends, family, and colleagues a side that I didn’t even knew existed, meshing my intellectualism and street smarts to become a mature, confident public figure.
This magic unfolded during my “Taking the News to the Streets” and “Night of News & Music” community events. In the public eye, I expressed my creativity and showed my fellow black Washingtonians my passion for information, service, and revolution. My two-hour events at We Act Radio and Sankofa Video Books & Café attracted people of various backgrounds, all of whom enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, conversation, and my impassioned diatribes about African unification, consciousness, and self-determination. Our live news programs, which played on the air most of the time, were nothing like “Meet the Press” or “McLaughlin Group.” It had flavor, like what you would find in jollof rice at Appaio’s on 9th Street.
Indeed, guests felt the African vibrations in our material and understood the importance of the subject matter, mainly because I was no longer confined to the rules of the Eurocentric news industry. Of course, I spoke clearly and made my points articulately as many African scholars have done before me. At the same time, I spoke to my people in a language they understood. I addressed them as equals and made the news more engaging. As a matter of fact, the issues I spoke laid the foundation for future conversations with men who I call brothers to this day.
Imani (faith) – None of what I’ve done in my work as a journalist would be possible without the last Kwanzaa principle. I step in faith every day in my work as a grassroots journalist. In recent months, reading about the work of Ida Barnett Wells, Sam Cornish, John B. Russwurm, and countless other black journalists made my mission clearer.
Like them, I’m working against a system that uses the mainstream media to vilify and quiet people of African descent. My journalistic perspective matters at a time when black people are searching for a way out of a perpetual state of frenzy. In keeping my spirits up, I’m remaining faithful that the information I provide won’t fall on deaf ears.
Without the constant paychecks and cries of validation from editors, it’s easy to fall into a funk somedays when work moves slower than expected. In those moments, I just remember to enjoy the journey itself and believe in the beauty of my work. One day, my children will have something to call their own if they choose to take over AllEyesOnDC. More importantly, the community will have another black-owned institution to which they can look for support. For now, I await the head nods in the audience and smiles of pleasant surprise when I say a seemingly off-the-wall statement.
At the same time, I keep going even when viewers don’t show their approval. That’s all part of remaining faithful that I’m planting seeds of revolution in their mind.
Thus ends my Kwanzaa/ New Year’s post.
It’s my hope that this presentation inspires and lays to rest the violent assumption that there’s objectivity in journalism. In fact, reporters seldom separate their feelings from the stories they write. This has been the case in the white-centered media and exploitative ethnic-centered media to some degree. If anything, viewers should have some media literacy and understand how and why their news sources present certain news and viewpoints.
In the New Year, let’s explore these issues together and become more a conscious people, breaking out of our mental slavery, one chain at a time.