Kwanzaa 2021: Imani (Faith)

I lost my faith in humanity on the night of November 8th, 2016. It was the end of a terrible year of campaigning where Donald Trump had harassed his way to the GOP nomination despite — or perhaps because of, in hindsight — his egregious temperament. I had thought he’d demonstrated his unfitness to be President by being openly racist, misogynist, and willing to abuse any power he could get a hold of. That night I thought the only thing in question was how big of a landslide he would lose by.

But by the time the polls closed on the East coast, we saw the direction the wind was blowing. We were fairly sure he’d won the election before polls closed in California. I was devastated. All of my dreams for the future evaporated that night, knowing that we would have to spend a pivotal four years coping with a reprehensible figure in the White House, knowing that friends and neighbors wanted him there. The world I thought I lived in was a fiction, and this was a terrible awakening to what was in front of me the whole time.

It’s been a long six years since then, and I can’t say my faith in humanity has been restored. We’ve seen how far people are willing to go to indulge their worst impulses, and we have one of our only two major political parties actively oppressing opposition in any way they can where they have state-based power to do so. It’s not just the government; citizens have insisted on their right to believe in conspiracy theories, debunked junk science, proto-fascist platforms and disinformation campaigns no matter how much it harms the social fabric. We’re seeing the effects of this right outside our windows — every region of the United States has felt the consequences of climate change, and we’re nearing the two-year anniversary of a pandemic that could have been severely lessened if our institutions and many of our fellow citizens cared more about their neighbors instead of their rights to make money. At the very moment we need to come together as a species, we’re more fractured — and in denial — than ever.

How is it even possible to have faith in times like these? Imani is the final of our Seven Principles, and what we contemplate on this last day of Kwanzaa. It is faith in ourselves, our communities, our principles, and our future. It’s the link that bonds everything else. We need faith in our fellows in order to stand united. We need faith in ourselves to assert the right to determine our own path. We need faith in our businesses in order to practice cooperative economics. As essential as faith is to making a better world, it can be astonishingly difficult to hold onto.

I found a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King that I instantly loved when thinking about this question. “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.” None of us know what waits for us at the top of our climb, but we have to move forward somehow. And it really fucking helps if we have faith that our struggle is worth it, that we’re moving towards something.

And honestly, as long as we’re living our principles, we ARE moving towards something. We are becoming better people by putting our ideals into practice, learning how to transform our beliefs into concrete actions. That’s magic at work, that’s living the dream. We may not know what waits for us in the future, but we can have faith that when we get there we’ll be the people we need to be in order to meet it.

I’m not sure if this entirely makes sense, but I believe that as long as we have the desire and the will to be better people, to make a better world, we can have faith in its possibility. Faith is merely knowing there are steps between where we are now and where we can be, and any small step towards that place is worth taking. It doesn’t require us to force other people into our way of thinking; it only asks us to keep moving forward believing that one way or another, they will.

That makes faith something personal, essential to nurture within ourselves. If there is something within us that can change for the better, that helps us improve on our mistakes, that motivates us to be our best, that something is within every one of us. It might not be visible now — we might even doubt its existence in the first place. But I have faith it’s there within me. It has to be within you, too.

This is the first day of a brand new year. Stepping into it with faith in a brighter future helps me look forward to it — all the work to be done, all the challenges to be overcome, all the beautiful souls around the world ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle it with me. We can do this. We can pull ourselves together and adapt to what lies ahead. We just need a little faith in ourselves, and each other.

Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year, everyone. Keep carrying the fire.

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