One month ago I was invited to attend my second Kwanzaa Celebration. I photographed the event at the Partnership for Affordable Housing in Oakland, California on December 26, 2014. I returned with my two children last week to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s birthday. The Partnership for Affordable Housing operates a transition home. While I was photographing the Kwanzaa Celebration, I kept thinking about my first Kwanzaa and how everyone is in transition.
In 1991, I did not have a place to live. I had assumed that I would be finishing my final year of college, but then my financial aid was unexpectedly cut and I did not have a place to live. A family invited me to their home for Kwanzaa and I enjoyed the company. I still remember the grateful grandmother tell me how to avoid growing old. (Die young!) I also remember their concern for me. It warmed my heart during the cold nights.
The first day of Kwanzaa emphasizes Unity. The person who led the celebration said of Kwanzaa, “It’s a celebration of the past, present and the future.” That would also be a good definition of a portrait.
Our neighbor Diane has known my children since before they were born. She invited me to the house this time. I don’t know how much she knows about my first Kwanzaa. Sometimes she seems to know these things. Maybe she just knew I have been in a little more transition than usual and thought that I could use the company.
For MLK Day’s Day of Service this year, I wanted my children to participate. I asked Diane if I could bring the kids to the transition house when I photographed the house for her. Once I told my children what we were doing, my daughter wanted to bake a cake. My son wanted to contribute too.
Whenever I have struggled in my life, someone has been there to pick me up… and I have struggled often. It is easy to believe that I have made everything thing myself. Yes, my daughter made that cake from scratch. I didn’t help… but she had help. We all have help, through good times and bad. My children were fortunate to visit the folks last week. My kids continue talking about the families that they met. My kids met real people. Real connections that will help create a sense of unity.
For me, I will also remember a simple quote I read as I entered the front door, “Stop looking for your purpose; be it...”