“The EAST, Kawaida and the Nguzo Saba”
By Segun Shabaka, Ph.D.
More than any other Black Power philosophy or groups of the 1960s, the Kawaida philosophy developed by the brilliant social theorist, master teacher and activist-scholar, Dr. Maulana Karenga, founder and chair of the Organization Us, has had the most profound and far reaching effect. And, subsequent cultural nationalist organizations, like the Brooklyn based East organization, and movements that adopted and used this new worldview of radical cultural and social change and its guiding principles, the Nguzo Saba. They have transformed the abstract ideas and ideals of that period’s bold new thrust for revolutionary struggle and empowerment. They were transformed into a comprehensive and cohesive nationally based plan and force rooted in African-centered, independent, self-conscious and self-reliant institution building, programs, service and struggle. The East was an integral part of Kawaida spreading across the United States and the world.
The East adopted Maulana Karenga’s philosophy of Kawaida and its guiding principles, the Nguzo Saba. Kawaida, based on tradition and reason, is defined as “an ongoing synthesis of the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.” Kawaida’s call for a cultural revolution and revolutionary social change is based on three contentions. They are: “1) the defining feature of any people is its culture; 2) for a people to be itself and free itself, it must be self-conscious, self-determining and rooted in its own culture; and 3) the quality of life of a people and the success of its liberation struggle depend on its waging cultural revolution within and political revolution without resulting in a radical transformation of self, society and ultimately the world.”.
The adoption of Kawaida cultural nationalism as revolutionary thought and practice was not unique to the East. Like scores of other Black Power leaders and groups seeking to institutionalize Black Power, the East was drawn to Kawaida’s call for self-discipline, self- reliance, and its definition of Black Power as “the collective struggle for self-determination, self-respect and self-defense” as well as to its concept of operational unity: unity without uniformity; unity in diversity. Also, Kawaida advocated liberation, pan-Africanism, anti-racism, anti-White supremacy and anti-colonialism, and Third World unity and struggle. Some of the other key figures and organizations of the Kawaida Movement were: Amiri Baraka of Committee for a Unified Newark (CFUN) in Newark, NJ; Haki Madhubuti of the Center for Positive Education (CPE) in Chicago, IL; Kalamu ya Salaam of Ahidiana Institute in New Orleans, LO, and; Ron Daniels of Freedom, Inc. in Youngstown, OH.
Starting at 10 Claver Place in Brooklyn, New York, The East/Uhuru Sasa founder and leader, Kasisi Jitu Weusi, like the others mentioned above, would galvanize some of the most committed, brilliant and intelligent Black minds in their community to build unprecedented grass roots supported and engaged activities. Most, if not all, of these leaders, did their most dynamic, profound and renowned work as of Kawaida cultural nationalist institution builders. “Baraka’s CFUN [and other groups] mirrored Karenga’s Us Organization in internal discipline, departments, titles, and highly regimented activities.” Karenga was given the assignment by the Black Power Conference in 1968 to test possibilities of political organization for Black Power and he and Us chose Newark as the site for this. He came to Newark and stayed, teaching and guiding political organizing and training and helping Baraka setup CFUN. The development of this formation led to the election of Mayor Kenneth Gibson (the first Black mayor of a major city) and the several Black councilmembers. From Newark, Kawaida began to spread on the east coast. Karenga left several cadre members there upon returning to Los Angeles. Soon after, Yusef Iman, who was a member of CFUN living in Brooklyn, came to the East to teach Kawaida.
At the East, Kawaida and its emphasis on exemplary models of African culture was fused into almost every aspect of the institution and how its members (seeing treating each other as brothers and sisters) related to each other as well as the global African community. These included: Holy days, titles for leaders (e.g., Imamu, Mwalimu, Naibu, and Kasisi) weddings, rites passage and life cycle ceremonies, greetings, and protocols for opening up, speaking and disagreeing in meetings and gatherings, ending meetings (Harambee) and departing from each other.
Unlike most of the other organizations of the era, The East/Uhuru sasa and Kawaida organizations were family and school-based institutions that gave special attention to the physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being of the children. So, there were also rituals and protocols for them, such as: life cycle ceremonies, e.g., bringing them into the African nation/community at birth, and naming them; how they greeted and addressed their teachers and adults of the community. At Uhuru Sasa, Kawaida style marching and drilling captured the rhythm and spirit of the African personality.