She had just seen “Amistad.”
And she talked of iron “feathers” - chains with shackles so tight, a man would leave a severed foot behind during an escape.
That was slavery. Unimaginable. Real. Not that long ago.
That was why Stephy Y. Nobles-Beans acted out her poetry in front of the more than 200 people celebrating Kwanzaa on Saturday at East Central Community Center. To remind them of the African American struggle that was, and the African American dignity that is.
She swayed with the sing-song music of her words.
“Told my man he was use-less, yet you worked him to the ground.”
Slowly, and with the rhythm, she wrestled with her prop chains, then was finally free.
“I-i-i-iron feather, can’t ho-ooold me down.”
Kwanzaa - Swahili for “first fruits of the harvest” - is a feast celebrating the black experience in the United States, and the African heritage that preceded it.
The weeklong holiday was started in the ‘60s by a California college professor, edging into the mainstream only recently.
It’s based on seven positive principles, such as unity and self-determination. It attempts to reclaim a heritage many blacks say has been wrested from them.
Travis Hammond, 14, was one of the winners of an essay contest describing what Kwanzaa means. The Medical Lake High School student read it to the crowd.
“Kwanzaa gives me the opportunity to take part in an African American holiday that was started by an African American and not rooted in the usual Anglo-Saxon tradition and beliefs,” Hammond wrote.
Candles were lighted: a black one for the people, three red ones for the blood ancestors shed, three green ones for the future.
Bernice Buchanan praised “Mother Africa, the cradle of civilization.” Everyone stood up and sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
After the first verse, the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell stopped them. “Now you can do better than that.” They did.
The holiday is a secular one - it’s not supposed to compete with or detract from Christmas, Hanukkah or other religious observances.
“It doesn’t matter what faith you come from,” Mitchell said.
But on Saturday, the program was heavily laced with religion. The final anthem: “God of our weary years/God of our silent years/Thou who has brought us thus far on the way/Thou who has by Thy might/Led us into the light/Keep us forever in the path, we pray.”
At the end came food and conversation and smiles. And a wave of well-wishers for Travis Hammond.
It was the biggest Kwanzaa gathering in Spokane that Mitchell can remember, and the first at the community center. Six churches and several businesses pitched in to promote the celebration.
After shaking all those hands, Hammond said down next to his family and friends. He was smiling.
The holiday belongs to his friends, family and ancestors. But the day belonged to him.
“It feels good,” he said. “Real good.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo