W-S Urban league leader delivers powerful message on opening day of Kwanzaa

An African drummer with the Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble performs during the opening night of Kwanzaa on Monday, Dec. 26, at the Enterprise Center. James Perry, president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League, is shown behind him.

W-S Urban league leader delivers powerful message on opening day of Kwanzaa
December 29
07:30 2016

Photo by Tevin Stinson



This week, African-American communities across the country are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa. Created by well known activist and professor Maulana Kargenga at the height of the Black Power Movement, the weeklong holiday gives African-Americans a chance to celebrate their culture.

While a lot has changed since 1966 in the African-American community, the harsh reality is that the same issues that plagued blacks then are still major problems today: police brutality, lack of jobs, bigotry, to name a few. During the opening ceremony, hosted by the Winston-Salem Urban League on Monday night, Dec. 26, after the traditional parade of African drummers and dancers, James Perry, president of the Urban League, delivered the message on the principle of Umoja, or unity.

Each night of Kwanzaa is represented by a different principle. The other principles are Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

In his address to the nearly 100 people, Perry discussed issues that create a glass ceiling in black communities, including poverty.

“Poverty is a systemic issue,” said Perry. “Systems are failing our people and failing our communities. Sometimes these systems are designed to make sure people are poor, and as African-Americans, we are front and center in every single one of those systems.”

As a solution to the growing issue, Perry suggested that the community practice other spending habits. While many believe the money just isn’t there, or that blacks aren’t willing to support each other, Perry mentioned cooperative economics is happening in our community but often-times it goes unnoticed.

As an example, Perry showed a slide show of money donated to the black church.

“As CEO of the Urban League, I hear it all the time: ‘Why aren’t black folks pooling our money together?’ But here’s the interesting thing: I think we do practice cooperative economics and unity,” Perry said.

“Think about black church revenue. In 2015, black church revenue in North Carolina reached $20 million. The budget to run the entire state is $21 million. The money we put into the black church is enough money to run our own state.”

According to Perry, since 1980 African-Americans have donated $420 billion to the black church.

“I want to be clear that I’m not beating up on the African-American church because we would not be here today if it was not for the black church, but my point is that there is no lack of funds in the community and there is no lack in cooperative economics because we have money and we are pooling that money.”

Perry said the real question is, what is the next step for the black church? He said the community must look at poverty as a Civil Rights issue as well as a systematic problem.  He mentioned in order to overcome the racial wealth gap that has existed since the beginning of time, blacks must change their way of thinking.

Perry also mentioned the community should stop relying on what the government and other systems provide.

“We have smart kids, we’re creative but we aren’t getting there by relying on the school system and the assets that are provided to us. We may be enjoying them, but we aren’t benefiting from them. If we don’t rethink our approach, nothing will change.”

During the opening night ceremony at the Enterprise Center, longtime theatre director and library director Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was honored for her hard work and dedication to uplift the community and bring people together. As the executive producer of the National Black Theatre Festival, which is produced by the N.C. Black Repertory Theatre Co., every two years Sprinkle-Hamlin plays an important role in showing blacks and the greater community what can happen when we all work together.

Every two years the festival of black theatre brings over $100,000 to the area.

After accepting her award, Sprinkle-Hamlin thanked those in attendance for support over the years.

“All the things I do here in Winston-Salem would not be possible without you,” said Sprinkle-Hamlin as she stood before the crowded room. “In order for us to grow as a community, we have to work together, and I am thankful that I have had your support.”

Local educator and minister the Rev. Dr. Felicia Piggott-Long said Kwanzaa’s 50th birthday couldn’t have come at a better time. She said with everything going on in the country today, Kwanzaa should be a time when we recommit ourselves to the fight to build strong, sustainable communities.

“This is about our collective emancipation, our collective liberation, and us coming together in order to move forward,” said Piggott-Long. “It’s exciting to see Kwanzaa reach this milestone, but we still have a lot of work to do in the African-American community.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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