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What if this was the village? Not the fantasy patriarchal village that black cultural nationalists use to construct false nostalgia. Not the village that Hilary Clinton talks about. Not even “The Village” in New York City, where our queer black cousins and younger siblings escape towards hoping to find themselves whole.
What if this was the village? Every night this week we have been reclaiming Kwanzaa as a queer black community building process here in Durham, North Carolina as part of the MobileHomecoming Project: a queer black intergenerational community education and documentary film project designed to amplify generations of queer black brilliance and to create interdependent sustainable support networks for queer black folk of all ages.
To be honest, I had fallen out of love with Kwanzaa. After realizing that the mainstream practice of Kwanzaa and its foundation in the cultural nationalist community often excluded LGBTQ members of the black community, explicitly or implicitly through very narrow ideas of what family should look like, what gender meant, and what community could be, I stopped practicing Kwanzaa. But this year, travelling the country interviewing Black feminist LGBTQ leaders and elders my partner and Mobilehomecoming co-creator Julia Wallace and I discovered that in cities as different as Detroit and NYC black LGBTQ community leaders have been reclaiming Kwanzaa for decades as a strategy to create space that affirms their blackness and their LGBTQ identity, to build organizational capacity and relationships and to deeply reflect on their visions for an intergenerational LGBTQ black community for the coming year. See the video below to hear from elders Imani Rashid and Dr. Kofi Adoma about the practices in both cities.
We were so inspired that we decided to celebrate every night of Kwanzaa here in Durham…like the Salsa Soul Sisters used to do in New York, at a different person’s home every evening and with meaningful conversations that redefine the standard principles of Kwanzaa. We are six nights in as I write this and I am already feeling more intimately connected with the legacy of brilliance and struggle of my elders here, and it has amazed and affirmed my spirit to learn how much people with decades of experience are still growing and evolving and questioning. I am walking back into a deeper, more sustaining version of love for what cultural rituals can do to strengthen our community.
So what if this was the village? Queer black folks of different genders and ages and wildly different experiences coming together to break bread, and to share with intimacy, vulnerability and laughter about our evolving understanding of purpose, our visions of collective work and responsibility, radically cooperative economics, faith, creativity and especially true unity, without conformity or silence. Would we ever even imagine living elsewhere?
Alexis Pauline Gumbs