Monday, December 29, 2008

Interview: Dr. Maulana Karenga - Founder of Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulana KarengaDaood interviews Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa. Learn more about Dr. Karenga (who was named in 2002 as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans by scholar Molefi Kete Asante) and about the tradition he helped establish...

Take us back to September 7, 1965 to the political climate that brought forth the Us organization?

Us emerged in the wake of two critical and shaping events: the assassination and martyrdom of Malcolm X and the Watts Revolt. Malcolm was for me, and later for Us, and the Black Power Movement that was to emerge as a model, an incisive instructor and inspiration for learning, organization and struggle. I had met Malcolm in the summer of '62 while I was at UCLA; had helped organize to bring him to campus, and talked to him at various times when he came to town. In fact, the first time I met him, he gave me a ride home and we talked about a wide range of intellectual and social issues. His work and philosophy had a profound effect on Us, the Movement and me. Indeed, we of Us saw ourselves as sons and daughters of Malcolm in the most revolutionary sense, as heirs of his legacy dedicated to continuing his struggle. Especially influential on Us and me were his ideas of self-determination, self-defense, cultural revolution, pan-Africanism, Third World solidarity and historical consciousness.

The second event which had profound effect on the development of the organization, Us, and on me was the Watts Revolt in August 1965. It was for me, my colleagues and the Movement a historic turning point, marking the end of the Civil Rights phase of the Black Freedom Movement and the rise of another phase which we would call the following year, Black Power. I was in the process of developing my philosophy Kawaida then, left my doctoral studies at UCLA on September 7, 1965, founded our organization, Us, along with several colleagues. Building on the teachings of Malcolm, I defined Black Power and the Revolt, its most vivid expression, as the collective action of a people to achieve, reaffirm and sustain three things: self-determination, self-respect and self-defense.

The Black Power Movement carried within it several tendencies all claiming a revolutionary status including Us. We argued over emphasis on the political, the religious, the economic and the cultural. We chose culture as our main emphasis, stressing cultural revolution, and the radical reorientation toward Africanness, what Sekou Toure called "full re-Africanization". I defined culture as a total system of thought and practice by which a people creates itself, celebrates, sustains and develops itself and introduces itself to history and humanity. This, we maintained, had to be on at least seven levels: religion (spirituality and ethics), social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production (art, music, literature), and ethos (collective psychology).

So, we were as involved as anyone else in political struggle, and armed, highly trained and disciplined in a paramilitary formation second to none, the Simba Wachanga, the Young Lions. But we stressed the need of culture as grounding that made everything else possible. We argued together with Malcolm, Toure and Cabral, and even Mao, that the cultural revolution precedes and makes possible both the struggle and the people's commitment to it. Indeed, we said until we break the monopoly the oppressor has on so many of our minds, liberation is not impossible, it's unthinkable. But we also argued that in the process of struggle, culture is deepened and developed and remains a living and reinforcing component of the struggle. Thus, culture and struggle are mutually interactive and mutually reinforcing, but culture is key to conceiving and structuring the struggle. Indeed, Cabral said the struggle for liberation is an act of culture.

So, I created Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba out of Kawaida philosophy. And Kwanzaa was developed as an institution to teach and reaffirm the importance of cultural grounding. Indeed, I created Kwanzaa for three reasons: first, it was to reaffirm our rootedness in African culture and facilitate our return to our history for we had been lifted out of our own history and made a footnote and forgotten casualty in European history. Second, it was to establish a special time when we and other African people all over the world could come together to reinforce the bonds between us and meditate on the awesome responsibility of being African in the world. And now over 40 million African people all over the world, on every continent in the world, celebrate Kwanzaa and meditate on being African in the world. Thirdly, I created Kwanzaa to introduce and reaffirm the importance of communitarian African values, values that stress and strengthen family, community and culture. And, of course, the key communitarian values of Kwanzaa, the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns are the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Briefly share with us your life in Parsonsburg, Maryland and the migration to Los Angeles, California?

I was born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, on a farm that grew products to truck to various local and regional markets. I grew up helping to plant, cultivate and harvest these crops. I went to school in Salisbury, the county seat and largest city on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was an all-Black school and I had wonderful teachers who taught the beauty and expansive meaning of Black history and culture, and instilled in us a love of learning and a sense of responsibility to represent the race, as we said then, in the most dignified and positive ways. Some of them were still alive and came to see me not too long ago, when the NAACP and City official gave me warm reception and awards for my achievements especially the creation of Kwanzaa. It was good to see them and I remembered those who were not there and could not come. I was honored and uplifted to have known them and admired them for the good they did and brought in such a racist, segregated and evil environment of that time.

Were your branches of cultural and socio-political consciousness rooted by your parents?

From my father I learned to value knowledge; to cultivate the mind; to master concepts, words and varied ways of expression; to seek the absent in knowledge; to question knowledge present and to be prepared, confident and assertive. From my mother I learned to feel deeply; to care; to sit for hours in silence in meditation and in support of the ill, aged and bereaved; to discipline myself for suffering and sacrifice; to love learning, flowers, gardens and growing things; and to achieve, do and share good. From both of them I learned to speak truth, do justice, care for the needy; to stand in awe and amazement of the beauty and good of creation; and to value the little and yet important things in life. And they taught me too - to avoid vices and acquire virtues; to appreciate silence and self-reflection, and walks in the woods and watching the birds, animals, insects, trees, plants, leaves and streams that filled the woods. They taught me a consciousness of race, a solidarity in sameness, i.e., shared history, culture and struggle; and commitment to race responsibility, pride and progress. Also, they taught me the dignity and value of work and the importance of commitment, excellence and perseverance. Moreover, they cherished justice and condemned injustice and they believed in the eventual triumph of good and right in the world, and the necessity for good people to stand up for what is right and good. And, of course, I was greatly influenced by their views.

Your national and Pan-Africanism outlook developed at what juncture in evolutionary journey?

The sources of my nationalism perhaps go back to my appreciation of the works of the writers and heroes and heroines of our history. It did not become influential and a conscious choice until later. But it was like Malcolm's introduction to Marcus Garvey by his father that did not become influential until later. I came into consciousness in the 60's [through] the activism in the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, the Anti-Capital Punishment Movement and of course, the Student Movement. At Los Angeles City College, I was involved in all these Movements and became active and interacting with and organizing international students. Indeed, they became a core constituency for me in my becoming the first Black student body President of LACC.

But also an important influence on my nationalist consciousness and that of all of us in the Movement was the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, put forth most brilliantly and incisively by Min. Malcolm X, Al Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. This essential and transformative message, as I understood and interpreted it, was: (1) to remind us of our divinity and dignity, our sacred and inherent worthiness as a people; thus, (2) to raise Blackness up to a sacred observance and awesome ethical responsibility; (3) to deconstruct and demystify the nature of our oppression and the identity of our oppressor; and (4) to charge us with the responsibility to wake up (come into consciousness—historical and spiritual); clean up (live moral lives worthy of our status as bearers of dignity), and stand up (act audaciously to free ourselves mentally and socially and build a community and nation in our own image and interest).

Also, by now I'm deeply involved in studying continental African history and culture and the works of African revolutionaries like Nkrumah, Nyerere, Toure, Fanon and of course, Marcus Garvey and DuBois, and Malcolm X. I would also read Senghor, Cesaire, Cabral, Padmore, Kenyatta and others. And it is out of these theories and philosophies and others that I crafted Kawaida, defining it as an ongoing synthesis of the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.

2007 was the 41st Kwanzaa celebration. Being the creator of this, now, international holiday, impart your perspective of its success?

Kwanzaa represents a profound reorientation of how we as African peoples understand and assert ourselves in the world. One of the most impressive aspects of Kwanzaa is its phenomenal growth among Africans throughout the world and the interest it has gained among others around the world because of this growth and its central message of creating and celebrating good in the world. It is now practiced by over 40 million people throughout the world African community on every continent in the world. And it is important to recognize why Kwanzaa is embraced and continues to grow among so many people. Kwanzaa is embraced and continues to grow worldwide among African people for several reasons.

First, Kwanzaa is embraced and grows among African people because it speaks to our need and appreciation for its cultural vision and life-affirming values, values which celebrate and reinforce family, community and culture, and it challenges us to constantly bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Second, it represents an important way we as Africans speak our own special cultural truth in a multicultural world. Third, it reaffirms a rich and most ancient tradition which teaches that the fundamental meaning and mission of human life is to "constantly increase good in the world and not let any good be lost." Fourth, it reinforces our rootedness in our own culture in a rich and meaningful way. Finally, Kwanzaa is embraced and grows because it brings us together from all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions on the common ground of our Africanness in all its historical and current diversity and unity, providing us with a unique and ongoing opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the African initiative in the world.

And, of course, I feel blessed and honored to see my work flourish in my lifetime and I'm profoundly grateful to former and especially current members of Us who first practiced and promoted it and continue to do so; to the larger nationalist community who accepted and promoted it also; and to our people who made it a fundamental part of their lives, especially thru the practice of The Seven Principles, the Nguzo Saba, all year round, using them as value orientation, cultural and philosophical grounding and the basis for program development in the work they do in and for our national and international community.

As you and the organization embrace the New Year, what challenges and goals are in place for prosperity and grandeur?

As I said in my 2008 Annual Founder's Kwanzaa Message, our task in these and other difficult, troubled and trying times has been and must remain: to know our past and honor it, to engage our present and improve it, and to imagine our future and forge it in the most effective, expansive and ethically grounded ways for our ancestors, ourselves and those who come after us. And this means boldly facing the difficulties and dangers that confront us, seeking and speaking truth, doing and demanding justice, treating each other with ultimate respect and loving kindness, walking and working together righteously, resisting wrong, oppression and injustice everywhere, and struggling constantly to bring and sustain good in the world.

For more information about the organization, books that you've written as well as Kwanzaa, is there an office location, website and contact number?

I have written 16 books including: Introduction to Black Studies; Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics; Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle, and Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture.

For a longer list of books and articles, visit my website,

Other addresses and phone numbers are on our websites: and

Heri za Kwanzaa!! Happy Kwanzaa!!!

-Daood, Contributing Blogger

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Party Like It's 2009

Don't have plans for the New Year? Don't worry! Ring in the new year with celebrations as diverse as the city. There's music, theatre, fireworks, even a workshop for kids! Plus there are plenty of other events at that could easily be transformed into a special New Year's Party. Just bring your festive spirit!

-Tiina Vuorenmaa, ExperienceLA Staff

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LinkedIn - ExperienceLA is now on LinkedIn

Join's LinkedIn Group!

And don't forget about our Myspace Page, Facebook Group, Facebook Fan Page, and Twitter!

-ExperienceLA Staff

This Weekend: 1/2 Off Tickets to "The Joy Luck Club"

Not only does Los Angeles get an extended run of East West Players' production of The Joy Luck Club, there's also half-off ticket deal if you're willing to be a little charitable...

East West Players is offering 1/2 price tickets to the last week of their production of The Joy Luck Club. "To receive the half price tickets, tickets must be purchased in person at the time of the canned food donation. General ticket prices are $45 in the orchestra and $40 in the balcony." Donated proceeds will be given to the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC).

Find more information about The Joy Luck Club on

-ExperienceLA Staff

Friday, December 12, 2008

Newsletter: Holiday Celebration, Kwanzaa, Symphony

Welcome to the holiday season! Mark your calendars for all these great events in celebration:

-LA Symphony's Peace on Earth
-Lula Washington Dance Theatre's Kwanzaa Celebration Concert
-Spotlight: 49th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration
-Blog Highlights

See our newsletter for more details! Click here to subscribe to the Newsletter. Staff

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Union Station Family Tour

LA Union StationThe Los Angeles Conservancy always has a way of making places come to life. Not that these places aren't alive already - that people don't walk by with recognition or trek through with knowledge that it's there and it's a part of the Los Angeles landscape (though I'm sure many historical things left standing have some thing to do with the Conservancy...conserving). But it's almost a different kind of life, a certain ounce of clarity...the understanding you get from not seeing something, but experiencing it.

I attended the LA Conservancy's "White Christmas" at the Los Angeles Theatre the other week and remembered just that feeling. The last time I was at the Los Angeles Theatre was at Last Remaining Seats in June, but the great feeling of being in that space and to watch it be a real movie theatre is always great. It's not just some beautiful building, it's a building that once had an every day life and in that instance that I'm there, it's still alive. Not to mention, I could probably spend hours looking at that amazing ballroom and the bathroom!

The next Los Angeles Conservancy event is their "Union Station Family Tour" on December 27th, which I'm hoping many kids get to go to because Union Station is an everyday place, but it's a place filled with LA history, architecture, and people. It sounds like the perfect way to see Union Station in a whole new way. And if that isn't a good enough draw, maybe tell the kids it's been in the movies...

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Nutty LA: It's all about the Nutcracker

It's the holidays, go nuts! Well, at least go see The Nutcracker because here in Los Angeles, we've got it all - from traditional to silly to modern art and even an event that includes 4 different styles! You'll be sure to find one you like. So enjoy the festivities and if you're allergic to nuts, check out the experienceLA calendar for other holiday events!

Traditional Nutcracker Events:

Non-Traditional Nutcracker Events:

Nutcracker Related Events:

-Tiina Vuorenmaa, ExperienceLA Promotions Assistant

*Image courtesy of the United States Postal Service - check out the 2008 Nutcracker Stamps!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Follow ExperienceLA on Twitter!

Tweet! Tweet! - Now with Google Friend Connect

Do you have a Google, Yahoo, OpenID, or AIM account? Then join the Google Friend Connect network - now on When you join, you can rate and comment on all of our great events.

Join on our Spotlight Page:

Rate/Comment on our Event Pages:

Hope to see you on Staff

Friday, December 05, 2008

Newsletter: LA Live, Light of the Angels, Grammy Museum, Annie...

Welcome L.A. Live to Downtown Los Angeles - or well, welcome to L.A. Live. The new entertainment complex in Downtown LA is opening its many doors - from restaurants to light shows to nightclubs and the GRAMMY Museum, you've gotta get there! Check out our latest Newsletter:

-Light of the Angels: Nightly multimedia light show for the holidays (Related blog post: Lighht of the Angels @ L.A. Live)
-GRAMMY Museum Opens
(Related blog post: The GRAMMY Museum Experience)
-Go Metro to L.A. Live and Win!
-Late Night Transit for the Holidays
-...and don't forget to schedule in experiencing other parts of LA: We're giving away tickets to Annie at the the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood!

Welcome to December! Staff

Light of the Angels @ L.A. Live

Heralding the opening of L.A. LIVE, superstar Britney Spears, councilwoman Jan Perry, University of Southern California coach Pete Carroll and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa light the 52-foot digital tree on stage at the 'Light of the Angels' Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at L.A. LIVE on December 4, 2008 in Los Angeles, California - Photo Courtesy of EdelmanLast night was the inaugural holiday tree lighting at Downtown LA's new entertainment complex - L.A. Live. The thirty-minute inaugural event was telecast on KTLA 5 and featured a performance of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" by talented R&B songstress Natalie Cole, City of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Adam Carolla hosting, and guest celebrities USC Football Coach Pete Carroll and 'Surprise' Celebrity Superstar Britney Spears. The celebrity guest was 'outed' earlier on in the week by blogdowntown, but I think it made it better to know the surprise, to draw in more of a crowd to a place which central purpose is to bring people in to see the new face of Downtown LA's current renaissance.

Here's the general gist of "Light of the Angels":
-Run-time: 7 minutes
-Featuring: Multi-dimentional light display which includes a 37,500 lb. tree that's 54-feet tall in the midst of L.A. Live's Nokia Plaza. The "tree" is covered with 11,382 XL Sphere LED lights
-In addition to the lights (there are also lights that make it look like snow is falling on the trees!), there is video on the plaza's 11 giant video screens and accompanying music
-Show runs on the beginning of each hour nightly from 7-10pm until Dec 31st.

While there might lay some nostalgia for a "real" Christmas tree, a light show adds a bit of flare to the innovative nature that Los Angeles can often reflect. As an Angelino who doesn't see much snowfall, there was an almost "of course" feeling to the idea that we would have a light show for the holidays...and so oddly this "something new" felt a bit like home.

The seven-minute light experience is enjoyable to gaze at, displaying the bright and shiny aspect that can come from the holidays, but augmenting all this is the hustle and bustle of L.A. Live itself. There were families out to see the first show, to mingle around the first openings of L.A. Live's initial bloom. There were jackets on, a chill in the night air, and iconic red Starbucks cups in hand. It was just...nice.
Whether you're there for the lights or the sights, something's bound to catch your eye at L.A. Live.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rachel Resnick - "Love Junkie" at Book Soup

I'm a big fan of independent booksellers, and I was more than happy to trek over to West Hollywood for a particular event at an uber-cool independent bookstore: Rachel Resnick's reading/book signing of her recently released memoir Love Junkie at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip! (Metro Tip: If you get off at Sunset/Vermont Red Line station, it's just a little bit aways on the Metro 2 bus...)

If you've been following this blog since its inception (if so, thank you!), you may recall the name Rachel Resnick has been mentioned before. Last noted on this blog in 2006, Ms. Resnick was in discussion with Janet Fitch at ALOUD at Central Library with Fitch's release of Paint it Black.

Fast forward - and rewinding a little - to this past Tuesday, Ms. Resnick was at her second LA launch event for her recently released memoir - Love Junkie. I'm a big fan of Resnick's work in general, and a fan of her memoir in particular. It's just the type of book that has you turning the page because the more you enter into Resnick's past as a self-professed "love junkie", the more you're intrigued about her journey, of how she pulled herself out a downward spiral where love is a drug that even the non-junkies can understand.

The memoir is a rollercoaster ride through relationships, and it would first appear that this is the book's driving force - the pulsating, yet destructive nature of the author's romantic and sexual entanglements. But this gives the "drug/addiction" too much credit. The true heart of the novel is the love junkie herself, whose voice weaves the reader in and out of her harrowing journey of men and her knee-scrapping/heart-bleeding acts for love. Resnick adeptly gives just pause to these scenes wrought with disaster by analyzing the roots of her problem, presenting examples of love from her childhood experiences - moments of self-actualizing that gives you time to take a gasp of breath before Resnick takes you through another scene and you hold your breath hoping for her realization and recovery.

The Book Soup event included Resnick reading passages from her book, choosing from scenes that showcases her ability to present descriptive characters and settings. The tone of the event was light and fun - interwoven with jokes as they arose from questions. Much of the audience was also interested in the format of the memoir itself and the motivation and inspiration of how Love Junkie came into fruition.

The best part of author events is to both see the author who wrote the book and hear them read their words. This is particularly true with a memoir event because it's just great to see the face behind a work that is true, especially one where you've been able to read through what the author has had to go through. Whether or not you can identify with the author's situation is almost a moot point because just being able to recognize and acknowledge that a person has endured a journey and is living a life focused on recovery is just inspiring.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Live Blogging at Inaugural L.A. Live Tree Lighting

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The GRAMMY Museum Experience

GRAMMY Museum - Touch TableI'm at a lost for words as I write this post because quite frankly there's just so much to say about the GRAMMY Museum, because there's so much to do and see and hear... So hopefully the following makes sense to you, but sometimes you just need to be there to understand (and really, you need to make plans to be there!)...

When you enter into the museum (tour starts on the 4th floor), the first thing to greet you is a touchtable that allows you to listen and explore genres of music (see the main photo of this post). It's Star Trek meets Apple's iTunes Genius Sidebar, bringing up related genres/topics to the music you have selected to learn. If you can pull yourself away from this almost hypnotic interface of swirling loops, tag bubbles, and music clips (I was there for a good while!), the 4th floor of the GRAMMY Museum is home to "The GRAMMY Music Landscape", "The GRAMMY Archives and Hall of Fame" and "Artist Voices: The Creative World".

GRAMMY Museum - Individual Touch Screen for Music EpicenterMy personal favorites are the interactive exhibits for Music Landscape - Music Epicenters and Culture Shock in particular. Music Epicenters allow you to explore key music in each region across the United States and Culture Shock features major culture changes tied to music over many decades. Both exhibitions require a hands-on approach to navigation and feature music clips and narrative. In addition to interactive exhibits, there are key historic items on display and documentary style videos discussing each genre of music, history, and impact. Before leaving the 4th floor, you get to learn about inspirations and find out from the voices of popular songwriters what inspires them and their work. As a songwriter of sorts, it was interesting for me to see if my methods matched theirs or if it didn't at all.

GRAMMY Museum - In the StudioThe third level showcases Recording Art and Technology, including "In the Studio", a hands-on and visual approach to being a part of the studio, of learning how a recording is made. We often only experience the art of listening to its final product on the radio, CD, or latest greatest MP3 player, so this exhibition enables the visitor to experience key parts in the process of the art. There are also historical panels about how the craft has changed over time and a documentary which features Carrie Underwood's recording of "Jesus Take the Wheel". The GRAMMY Museum wouldn't be complete without the history of the awards, its history of great performances, and its winners - the Everything GRAMMY exhibition is found here as well. Word of warning, once you sit down to watch historic performances, it's really hard to pull yourself away from the amazing artists that have come across a GRAMMY stage. And for you fashionistas, there's also iconic outfits that have graced the red carpet as well.

The final level - Level 2 - features the GRAMMY Sound Stage, Special Exhibits Gallery, the GRAMMY Gallery, and GRAMMY Museum Store. I wasn't able to spend too much time in this section because by the time I got here, my mind was already overwhelmed with everything the museum had to offer on Levels 3 and 4 - and this is only after I skimmed through some exhibitions because of my own time limits. But that only means I need to come back again and again to make sure I get it all. Which may just be impossible because in addition to housing great interactive elements and exhibitions which explore the history of music and recording, the museum itself will act as a living hub of live music and discussion. Its theatre space will be a place for intimate performances and conversations and the outside plaza will be home to performances that require outdoor space.

The GRAMMY Museum opens its doors to the public on Saturday, December 6th and is part of AEG's L.A. Live Entertainment District opening in Downtown Los Angeles.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

LA Opera's "Carmen"

I realized while watching "Carmen" on Sunday afternoon that it's amazing how its music has seeped into the crevices of culture. It's as if I know the sound of it before I realize the origin, every single time. And that's how it opened for me - first with the strains of the orchestra and then my brain thinking: "Oh yeah, that's from Carmen..."

Perhaps the same can be said about the story itself, one of love from passion, devotion, stupidity, and/or insanity, all of the above in which appears in stories elsewhere. It's not too hard to sink yourself into the love story/ies - the good of it and the tragic.

Inevitably, the show is fun, familiar, well-done, and fantastic for those very reasons. To forewarn, the run time for Georges Bizet's "Carmen" is 3 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions. At first, when presented with this time frame, it appears daunting. After all, the average movie is about two hours long - if that. But with the familiar strains of this famous French opera, the comic elements, and a love story that's parts passion and parts women's lib - time flies with every enjoyable second.

Performances of Carmen continue at the LA Opera until December 14th.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator