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Kwanzaa: Nia / Purpose

It’s Me!



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It’s Day 5 of Kwanzaa! Today’s principle is the Swahili word for purpose, Nia.

“Love you with a sense of purpose.”

When I was growing up, my momma (ma) and aunt (auntie) exposed my sisters / sister-cousins/ brother-cousin, and I to the best music. One group in heavy rotation in our household was the Jamaican reggae band, Third World. In 1990, they released an album called Sense of Purpose and featured a song by the same name. I thought this song was just perfect: the beat was nice, the vocals and harmonies were great, and the vibe of the song made me feel happy whenever I heard it. I could sing and dance along to the song, but then there were the lyrics.  I knew “Sense of Purpose” was a love song (he repeatedly told the object of his affection that he loved her), and I also could tell it was a kind of requited love that had grown from some kind of adversity (he talked about backstabbers and gossip-mongers, too!). But what reeled me in was the fact that he was declaring that his loving this woman came with some obligation. That song said to love someone with a “Sense of Purpose” was to love through our actions, too. I thought it was amazing!

About a year prior, one of my favorite songwriters of all times, Babyface, released a song from his Tender Lover album called, “Soon as I Get Home.”  This love song was also about action.  He promised to buy clothes, cook food, etc.  It was certainly unlike any song I had ever heard any man sing to any woman, ever!  And, after following Babyface’s career, listening to his catalog of music as well as the songs he had and has written for others, it is clear he has pursued the purpose of his life by bringing so much joy to others through song; his feelings have not been mere thoughts trapped within the confines of his mind. He has written the best songs and shared them with us all.

Purpose.  It requires deliberate action. It does not mean that one has to have the architect’s plan, but it does mean we must have the baby’s effort—each of us has the right to take the first step in fulfilling our purpose. Purpose is giving voice to silence or adding color to a blank canvas. It is providing moisture to an arid space or crowded pandemonium to a lonely calm.

The pioneers in our communities have loved us better than unconditionally—they have loved us with an insatiable sense of purpose, and created “love songs” in the process.

John Mercer Langston, born in 1829, was a very accomplished Black man from Louisa County, Virginia. Through education he defined his purpose and helped thousands of others find theirs as well. Throughout the course of his life he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, in theology, from Oberlin College.  Eventually he wound up practicing law in Ohio after initiallyJohn Mercer Langston being denied admission to law schools in New York and Ohio.  John Mercer Langston’s purpose led him to become the first African American to serve in the Virginia State Assembly, and a closer look at his life shows that his purpose on this Earth was always to serve. He recruited African Americans to serve in the Union Army. He served as an inspector for the Freedman’s Bureau, participated in suffrage efforts, and served as the President of the National Equal Rights League.  In addition, he served as the founding dean of the Howard University Law School, drafted the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, served as a United States Minister to Haiti, a diplomat to the Dominican Republic, became a United States Congressman, and sat on the Board of Trustees at St. Paul’s University.  Most importantly to me is that he served as the very First President of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Virginia State UniversityInstitute, better known to the world as Virginia State University, my alma mater.  All throughout his adult life he worked to serve and elevate others; and, the rewards were and continue to be great.  Thousands of students have graduated from Virginia State University. Scores of students have clerked for and served as judges in our courts as a result of the law degrees they obtained from Howard University’s Law School.  Each of the current members of the Congressional Black Caucus owes his and her seats to John Mercer Langston and his colleagues.  His purpose-driven life was rooted in the service to others and is the kind of love song many of us will sing forever.

I am certain John Mercer Langston did not accomplish all of his goals; there were moments in which he lamented on one accomplishment a little too long or he may have felt that he had done everything he possibly could until he accomplished his next feat or produced something better. He did not always have a plan on how to navigate the racist and prejudicial world in which he navigated, but he journeyed through.  In every effort, Mr. Langston continued to grow and believe in his purpose, for he never stopped until he was able to leave the legacy that I have been able to share in this post. Indeed, John Mercer Langston loved us all with a “Sense of Purpose.”


  1. stubbystan says:

    Great read, sis! Also you’ve got great taste in music & HCBUs!

    • Zakiyyah Ali says:

      Awwwwwwww…!!! Thank YOU so much for reading and COMMENTING! It’s really encouraging to get the feedback and an absolute pleasure to share! Happy a purpose-driven, VSU-style New Year! 🙂

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