Oberlin Blogs

How I Discovered Kuumba

November 10, 2013

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

November is less than two weeks in and, already, I am awestruck by the limitless talent and skill of my fellow Obies. My college experience is being made by some of the most innovative, engaging and revolutionary people I have ever met and, sometimes, I wonder how can I begin to leave my unique mark on this campus in the time I have left.

During a meeting of our Black Student Union, ABUSUA, we discussed kuumba (pronounced koo-OOM-bah), a Swahili word meaning creativity, and what creativity means to each one of us. For some, creativity means self-expression through various mediums such as clothing, hair, accessories, dance, music, and the arts. Others mention a historical connection to creativity, whether that be in how our ancestors chose to express their experiences or in how they began to overcome the restrictions imposed on their bodies and lives. We all began to understand that creativity is life that takes on various forms, but never dies and it is something that dwells within us all.

As I glanced around the room, the creative energy was incredibly visible-- I was in a room of dancers, singers, visual artists, and poets and I struggled to identify with those people who I believe are the epitome of creative spirit. As the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, kuumba means to always do as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. In this way, it was easy to see that my creative way is in my writing, my version of story telling. Story telling is my way of relating to the world and uplifting my community through sharing anecdotes of the struggle. My experiences become somewhat archetypal for my community and hopefully inspire someone to carry on despite the adversity, and that is my beautiful contribution to my community and this world.

One of the things I love about Oberlin is that so many of my friends (and students in general) share in this kind of understanding about creativity. Chicago-based emcee and fellow Oberlin student, Van 'Go, is one of those many amazing friends I have whose creativity is mind-blowing. All shameless plugs aside, this man is talented beyond belief not because he is lyrically critical of his experiences, or invested in his hometown's well being or even because he is dedicated to the highest extreme to making it (but he is all those things and more). What I love the most is his inspirational quality-- his creativity fuses experience, struggle and survival and so many people are able to mesh their creative spirits with his and the end result is always incredible.

His November 4th performance at the 'Sco proved that in order to be truly creative we must:

  • acknowledge our fears, limitations, and anything that holds us from our dreams
  • draw from our experiences and struggles and relate to people with them
  • never confine what creativity looks like; each person models it differently, but everyone has the gift of creativity and individually uses it in the best possible way

And now that you're thinking about what kuumba looks like for you personally, I will leave you with a soundtrack to go by. Admittedly, I'm biased because Van 'Go has been personally influential in my life, but his message is worth repeating and the collaborative creativity that stems from his work is equally worth sharing. So here you go and happy Kuumba week!!

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