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Rites of passage: ceremonies can help our kids cope with today’s turbulent times

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#1 (permalink) 08-29-2004
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Rites of passage: ceremonies can help our kids cope with today’s turbulent times


Rites of passage: ceremonies can help our kids cope with today’s turbulent times

Synade Jackson, a divorced mother of two, was filled with anxiety as her 14-year-old daughter, Kemikaa, moved toward womanhood. So to reinforce the lessons she had been teaching her at home about being a strong Black woman, Jackson enrolled Kemikaa in the Sojourner Truth Adolescent Rites Society (STARS) in New York City.

“I had wondered whether my daughter would choose education over adolescent pregnancy,” Jackson says. “I wanted her to learn African history and spirituality. I wanted these values to be ingrained in her.”

Jackson seems to have gotten her wish. As Kemikaa and 13 other girls finished the ten-month program (which included classes on spirituality, sexuality, cooking-and even quilting), Jackson says she watched her daughter become a more confident, responsible young lady. And Kemikaa, too, was happy with the results. “I got a lot out of the group,” she says, “especially the self-love and self-esteem class, where we talked about our ,body temple, and how we feel about ourselves.”

Jackson is not alone in her desire to play a greater role in the socialization process of her child. According to Audrey “Ayo” Hunter, founder and executive director of the Kabaz (Black Jewels) Cultural Center, Inc., in Detroit, African-American rites-of-passage programs like hers have been going on since the 1960’s. Meanwhile, the Afrikan National Rites of Passage United Kollective, a St. Louis, Missouri-based umbrella organization that has been conducting these programs for ten years, has annual meetings to develop and hone African-American passage programs around the country.

“Historically our people have always used certain requirements or tasks to move on to the next level,” says Darryl “Kofi” Kennon, executive director of the Baltimore Rites of Passage Kollective. “African people have been doing rites for thousands of years.”

Bruce “Olamina Osatunde” Stevenson, assistant director of operations programming of the Baltimore rites group, adds “As a direct result of the enslavement of African people, our rites of initiation were stolen. Every culture has a process where children must become adults. We use these rituals to let children know that it’s time to take on roles and responsibilities.”

There are other benefits as well. Because negative images of the Black community abound, says Dr. Nsenga Warfield-Coppock, a Washington, D.C., psychologist who has written several books on African-American rites of passage, these programs help ensure that our children have healthy self-images. “Society does not provide a mirror for our kids to see themselves positively,” says Warfield-Coppock, whose three children have all participated in these rituals.

“With these programs,” sums up Dr. Wade W. Nobles, executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture in Oakland, “our children belong to something greater than themselves. And that’s important.”


While there is no “correct” way to do it, Stevenson of the Baltimore Rites of Passage Kollective recommends the following components for a successful passage program:

* Let African traditions or influences be at the core. At the African Son-Rise Rites of Passage Manhood Training Program in Washington, D.C., for example, boys learn about the history and culture of Africans in the diaspora through lectures, films and visits to museums. * Involve parents, relatives and guardians in the process. For instance, the West Dallas Community Centers have bonding sessions between the children and parents or guardians to emphasize the importance of extended family and mentors. * Make the rites program an ongoing one. “Rites of passage are lifelong,” says Warfield-Coppock. Consequently, the process is continuous, spanning birth and adolescence to marriage, eldership and finally death. Although programs typically revolve around young adolescents, they can be performed with toddlers, 7-year-olds and late teens too. * Give the participants tasks to master. Use emotional, spiritual and physical tests to prepare children for adulthood. At Detroit’s Kabaz Center, children go to the woods to become more attuned with nature and also participate in precision drills that instill discipline. * Let the community witness the ceremony. At the STARS program, Kemikaa and her friends dressed in African attire for their final ceremony in New York City’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, where they shared speeches with their families and other witnesses. * Include rituals and ceremonial activities. Children at the Baltimore Rites of Passage Kollective, for instance, form a unity circle to give thanks to the Creator and offer libations to remember their ancestors.


While we can’t list all rites-of-passage programs around the country, here are a few: * Baltimore Rites of Passage, Kollective, Harambee Kollective Services, Inc., 3645 Cottage Ave., Baltimore MD 21215; (410) 462-1494. With “positive, preventive and proactive” curricula, the Kollective trains boys and girls (ages 7 to 18) to become strong, responsible adults. The program, which lasts at least 20 weeks, is broken down into five major phases: family orientation, rites of separation, curriculum, retreat and naming ceremony, and the transformation ceremony. * HAWK Federation, 175 Filbert St., Ste. 202, Oakland CA 94607; (510) 836-3245. HAWK–High Achievement, Wisdom and Knowledge–was designed initially as an African-based manhood training program, but today, HAWK’s female counterpart, the Aset Society, offers a parallel operation for girls. Based on a series of tests that each child must master to build courage, character and consciousness, Hawk targets 12-to-14-year-old boys. Both programs, however, are open to children between the ages of.5 and 18. * West Dallas Community Centers, Inc., 8200 Brookriver Dr., Ste. N704, Dallas TX 75247; (214) 634-7691. After receiving a $1.4 million grant in 1989, the West Dallas Community Centers developed a rites-of-passage program that focuses on youths who have been involved with the correctional system or in family intervention. The curriculum incorporates the Nguzo Saba (the seven principles celebrated during Kwanzaa), counseling, and language, karate and history classes. This coed program generally lasts two years and targets children between ages 9 and 17. * Kabaz (Black Jewels) Cultural Center, 3619 Mount Elliott, Detroit MI 48207; (313) 924-1140. Kabaz, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last year, claims to teach “the art of manhood and womanhood by connecting to our past.” The coed program, lasting from three months to a year, trains children starting at age 5, using a 12-formula Dlan to in still Afrocentric values and norms. * Concerned Black Men, Inc. (D.C. Chapter), 1511 K St., N.W., Ste. 1100, Washington DC 20005; (202) 783-5414. The five-year-old African Son-Rise Rites of Passage Manhood Training Program is a year-round operation in which 8-to-13-year-old boys meet two Saturdays a month. It’s based on five principles: economic intuition, leadership, health and physical fitness, cultural awareness and academic competence. * African American Women on Tour, 3914 Murphy Canyon Rd., Ste. 216-B, San Diego CA 92123-4423; (800) 560-AAWT. At five conferences around the country, AAWT holds rites-of-passage programs for 12-to-19-year-old girls. The three-day workshop focuses on self-empowerment, teen sexuality and African culture and history.

For information on how to set up a passage program in your community, contact one of the organizations listed above. If you want to read up on the topic, check out Transformation: A Rites of Passage Manual for African American Girls by Mafori Moore, Gwen Akua Gilyard, Karen King and Nsenga Warfield-Coppock (STARS Press, $15) and Bringing the Black Boy to Manhood: The Passage by Nathan Hare and Julie Hare (Black Think Tank, $6). Warfield-Coppock can also provide a wealth of information; she can be reached at Baobab Associates, Inc., 7614 16th St., N.W., Washington DC 20012.

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#2 (permalink) 08-08-2005
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HELP: Searching For Rites-of-Passage in LA


Hello everyone. I am just coming out of the “Matrix”. I have a 10yr old son

that I want to help stay clear of it. I am looking for a rite-of-passage group

in LA to put him in. If anyone can help, please write back or phone me @

858-414-3434. Thank you so much for any and all assistance given.

Oh, I am also looking for an African based church, thanks again.

#3 (permalink) 08-08-2005
Im The Truth
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I worry the same about Atlanta, GA I heard about a rites-of-passage a while back but I’m not sure of the details or if it still exsist. If anyone knows let a brotha know.

Uhuru Sasa!!!
“If the enemy is not doing anything against you, you are not doing anything”
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“speak truth, do justice, be kind and do not do evil.”
-Baba Orunmila

“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.”
–Dr. Martin L. King

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