The Dallas Examiner
Most of us may think the purpose of growing a garden is to produce a harvest. But producing a harvest alone is not the end-all of growing a garden. The “Africans who Built America,” our ancestors, before being enslaved in America knew that harvest time was a deeply spiritual and social experience that represented both a spiritual acknowledgement of the source of the harvest and the social impact the harvest had on the families who would partake of the bountiful harvest. As “Descendants of Africans who Built America,” we would do well to remember these African traditions and those of our African Ancestors and Elders here in America.
During the early days of America, African people were still connected to the land and the growing of food. After the establishment of chattel – property for life – slavery, Africans were the primary source of agricultural labor in America. Without being paid, they raised rice, sugar cane, peas, greens, yams, okra, squash, corn, hogs, chickens and cattle that sustained a young nation. Their free labor and the products they produced served as the foundation for an economic system that would make possible the creation of a new nation that would become the international trade market for the world. And that’s the cotton pickin’ truth.
Over the years, I have heard African Americans say, “Slavery destroyed our African culture and traditions.” To this assertion I have to say, “Absolutely not.” Culture and traditions are like energy; you cannot destroy them, you can only transfer them or transform them. Like other cultures, we have transferred and transformed our African culture and traditions to adapt to the American experience we found ourselves in.
As a DABA elder, minister and educator, I can now reflect on the lives of my parents, grand-parents and great grand-parents and see the continuation of African culture and traditions, particularly as it relates to the planting and harvesting of food. During my childhood, I experienced the seasonal planting of various seeds in the soil and anticipated them sprouting out of the ground. As I grew older, I became aware of the fact that the planting and growing of food was not just an arbitrary act, but was very intentional and in line with age old traditions of knowledge of the land and seasons combined with prayer. Many times, once the planting had been completed, I would hear elders say, “Let us pray for a good crop.” This acknowledgement recognized that growing food was not only a natural experience, but a spiritual one as well.
As we plant food, we are only custodians of the seed and the soil working in concert with The Creator of the seeds, the soil and The One who sends the sunshine and the rain. This relationship made us deeply aware of our dependence on the spiritual-natural balance of life, thus giving rise to attitudes of thanks for a bountiful harvest.
Because of modern times, many have lost the awareness of the balance between the spiritual and natural forces that gives us our food. For most youth, food comes from the grocery store, and this is the extent of their knowledge of the source of their food; their parents do not help them think otherwise. We have lost our attitude of thanks for the food we eat daily. Slowly slipping away are the days when we gathered around a common table and offered grace and thanks “for the food we are about to receive.”
Sankofa Garden Homes hopes to help restore a sense of this spiritual and natural balance. As Sankofa reminds us to “fetch the past for the future,” our gardens can become that place – small though they be – that can re-connect us to the balance of spirit and nature. As we plant seeds in the soil and nurture them and trust God to bless us with a bountiful harvest, we prepare ourselves to be thankful.
I wish to submit four areas of thanks that I feel we as DABA people should be focused on during these Holy Days. First, we should be thankful for faith in God. Our people, without faith in a power greater than our condition, would never have made it through the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow.
Secondly, we must be thankful for our freedom. While many ABA people prayed and worked for freedom, many of them never saw it. Through their faith, they sowed the seeds of freedom that others of us would one day reap. As DABA people, we have the responsibility to tell our faith and freedom story.
That is why I wrote Da Night Befo’ Freedom, An Emancipation-Juneteenth Tale, an African American children’s coloring book. We must educate our children about the meaning of Dec. 31, 1862, Watch Freedom Night Services in our churches, and Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation/Jubilee Day, when we eat black-eyed peas and collards greens – our freedom meal – and June 19, 1865, when Texas received the news of emancipation.
Thirdly, we must be thankful our food. No matter the conditions we have found ourselves in, we have always found ways to have food to celebrate those special events in our history and our lives. But as I mentioned earlier, modernity has made us less aware of our awareness that our food not only comes from nature, but from God as well. As we prepare to eat more than we would normally do during the year, let our minds turn to the source, our harvest, and give thanks and pray we make the right choices of what to eat and how much to eat to maintain our health.
Fourth, we must give thank for our families. As we gather, we must remember it is a time to reaffirm our family histories, customs and traditions. We should not let technology and football games replace the importance of families talking and listening to each other. If we are to use technology, we should use it to record important moments of family history and events, with particular emphasis on our elderly and young. In the spirit of Sankofa, we must listen to our elders as they pass on to the next generation information about ancestors, land, history, recipes and stories that are critical to our families and our cultural future advancement.
As we begin these Holy Days, we should do so realizing we are the most blessed African American generation in the history of America. We have been bequeathed a harvest of freedoms and opportunities unknown by those before us. Despite slavery and Jim Crow, I reassert we are the foundation for the greatest nation on earth! While we are not a perfect nation, we must continue build with others on this foundation and make America even greater!
I thank those of you who have shared with me your desire to create your Sankofa Home Gardens. I look forward to meeting you and seeing your gardens and featuring some of them in the future.
Remember to always be thankful and watch your harvest grow!
Until next month, Good Sankofa Home Gardening!
For information on Sankofa Garden Homes and harvesting, e-mail email@example.com.