Moving Back to My Hometown, Kwanzaa Taught Me That Community Is Commitment

published Dec 26, 2022
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Credit: Erika Layne

Community is commitment — a declaration I have held close to my chest after moving back to Oakland five years ago determined to find a place for myself. My parents’ recent separation, the subsequent foreclosure of our family home, and a toxic job in public relations ultimately left me reeling with questions about home, place, long-term commitment, and community. 

I fantasized about the friends I would reconnect with and the spaces that would fill me with comfort. I was prepared to fall into it, for it to be a seamless process, because it was home. However, I was not prepared for the work and responsibility required to cultivate and hold myself accountable to others. Nor was I prepared to sift through the emotions of moving back to a city whose Black population was on a steady decline that began in the ‘80s. 

During my childhood from the late nineties to 2010s — before I was hip to the changing racial dynamics of the city — I was raised within a group of Black families who referred to themselves as “The Village.” An ethos that rang true to its namesake, “it takes a village to raise a child.” From preschool through the beginning of college, I was cushioned within the village’s intentional bond for Black community, with kids from seven to 10 different families. My cousins and I were shuffled along to the same schools, extra-curricular activities, group trips, and holiday celebrations. 

Credit: SeventyFour/Shutterstock

There were a few Kwanzaa celebrations in the mix, which arrived as a new tradition for many of us and a chance to learn more about our West African lineage. It existed as an extension of the holiday season, situated between Christmas and the new year.  

Kwanzaa only amplified what I knew as the familial warmth of a Black American home during the holidays. Black Santa and angel figurines — a point of pride for my mother who is known to paint an originally white Santa brown — accenting the existing prints of Biblical scenes and Black family images. A complementary backdrop to each of the seven principles that correspond to the week-long holiday which include: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity, and Imani (Faith). Existing in a Black home environment was significant for the simple fact that it was consistent and intentional. The community was there. 

Beyond my grief, there is still community. Black people are here, and Black people from here are here.

My Black-ass upbringing is complicated by Oakland’s dwindling Black population which saw a 25 percent decrease from 2000 to 2010. There is also a growing unhoused population with 60 percent of those individuals being Black. I am frequently reminded by new acquaintances that my presence as a born and raised Oaklander living in the city is rare. When I moved back, I had to grieve what I knew. 

Beyond gentrification and the loss of Black residents, I had to grieve in the way everyone does when they revisit a former life that has moved on in spite of their absence. Beyond my grief, there is still community. Black people are here, and Black people from here are here. And the communities I have chosen to commit to with consistency and intentionality have shown up for me.