Birthdays & By-Gone Years: I’m Looking Forward

I was raised in the home of a mother who is a Jehovah’s Witness, so birthday celebrations were not a part of my childhood experience and may explain why I do not have strong feelings about them now. I am perfectly content to pass the date cycle of my birth each year with no more than a cursory acknowledgement that I have advanced another year in my life journey. However, my very involved Facebook virtual reality makes it obligatory that I respond in some way to the many very kind and relationship affirming birthday wishes from my Friends that are conveniently prompted by the social media website’s software. Please accept this blog post as my fullest “thank you” to all who took the time to click birthday love my way.

As I reflect on what another passing year means to me, the strongest sentiment I can find within is a deep feeling of thankfulness. At the mid-life marking point of 42 years old, I find myself extremely appreciative for having a robust life full of my core passions and people I love. I am the father of two amazing children that provide meaning and value to my world each and every day, my lovely daughter Issata Abena Nkromo and first born son Kwesi Muyu Nkromo. I have many true friends (with a small “f”) that touch my life beyond the virtual realms of Facebook or Twitter, making those environments simply high-tech extensions of a meaningful network of relationships that are a treasure to me. I am privileged to be working professionally in fields of my life’s purpose, helping feed God’s people in communities and making beauty art in the world. I may be over the hill, but I like this view.

In my full gratitude, I am therefore looking forward to what future years in my life may bring. Now that I know being a father is something I can do well, I am open to having more children as well as determined to do more in nurturing the two in my care now. Issata and Kwesi are entering a stage in their development that involves much more self expression from them and I am excited about learning more about who they are as spiritual souls and expressions of divine purpose. Even though we are divorced, I hope to continue the healing process for our erstwhile family and gain an even better co-parenting partnership with their mother Kipenzi. Getting to know myself more each day, I expect to make more informed choices in coming years about who I should best be involved with romantically. I still believe in love and marriage.

Leah & Leila

As another year rolls by for me, I look forward to spending more time with people that matter the most to me. I will take time to make it across town to see the many improvements my soul-brother Khari Diop has made to the East Lake Learning Garden and Urban Farm. I will travel to Houston, Texas to see my life-long friend Leah Wilson-Hill and get to know her darling granddaughter Leila, as well as visit with my mentor in the urban agriculture movement Dr. Bob Randall.  I will stop by the Rose Circle Community Garden in the West End and swap horticultural techniques or stories with my forever-neighbor and fellow food rebel Debbie Zimmerman. I will find some way to rebuild communication and ties with community building collaborators and dear friends Mike Mumper and Oni Holley. I will sojourn home to Boston to spend time with high school friends like Bridgit Brown and the many family members that I see too little of lately. I will finally make it to Ghana West Africa to see the home made there by my courageous couple-friends Akua and Chenu Gray, as it may be time to look at options some time soon. Inshallah, I will do all these things and more with family and friends in the coming months.

I believe the future is very bright for Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network (AM-FFN), a new thing in the world built from scratch by me and a close circle of colleague-friends. While I have started and continue to work on other enterprises like The Brow Tutor, AM-FFN is very special to me and becomes more so as the journey of its organizational development unfolds. I have found my bliss in conjuring up this beautiful answer to an opportunity-problem in the world: How do we help people become sovereign and secure in their ability to feed themselves in a sustainable way that respects the environment and builds community or family wealth? If all continues to go as well as it has thus far, AM-FFN will be among the best things I have done with this often tumultuous life and serve as a significant part of my dues for having taken up air and space during these few fleeting years on earth. I will have left the world better than I found it.

Happy Birthday to me and “medase pa” (thanks very much) to each of you!


The House of Amen: Where the Whole of My Life’s Work Resides

Bishop Jawanza & his wife Menia

After a prolonged period in which my focus was largely consumed by a run for local elected office, several events have brought back into sharp relief the core motivation behind my areas of activity. One is the imminent relocation of my dear friend Dr. Jawanza Eric Clark and his family to New York, so he may assume a new teaching position as an Assistant Professor of Global Christianity at Manhattan College. Dr. Clark is a Bishop and recent co-pastor with my home faith community, the Shrine of the Black Madonna #9 of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC). Close in age and in certain areas of spiritual temperament, Bishop Jawanza and I share ambitions and hopes for a theological evolution of the belief system that binds us together as soul brothers: Black Christian Nationalism.

Dr. Clark also recently published his Ph.D dissertation as a seminal work entitled, “Indigenous Black Theology: Toward an African-Centered Theology of the African-American Religious Experience” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). In the book, he argues that:

“For black people in America, Christian formation historically has come at a steep price—alienation from, even shame for, their African past. This alienation is primarily rooted in the acceptance of two orthodox Christian doctrines: the doctrines of original sin and Jesus Christ as exclusive savior. This work is concerned with the way Black Christian formation, because of the acceptance of universal, absolute, and exclusive Christian doctrines, seems to justify and even encourage anti-African sentiment. Clark seeks to address this problem by constructing a doctrine of the ancestors in an effort to legitimize indigenous African religious categories and offer an alternative theological anthropology for the future of Black theology.”

Dr. Sailm Faraji

In addition to the developments above, another close friend and peer teacher for me has also recently published a new book that also illuminates the spiritual heritage of Black theology. Dr. Salim Faraji is an Associate Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills, as well as the founder of The House of Amen. In “The Roots of Nubian Christianity Uncovered: The Triumph of The Last Pharaoh” Dr. Faraji answers the questions:

 “How and why did ancient Nubia convert to Christianity during the 4th – 6th century CE?  …. it is no longer acceptable to argue that Nubia converted to Christianity in the sixth century CE due to Byzantine Missions, but that a little known monarch, the Nubian king Silko who ruled in the 5th century inaugurated the beginnings of Christianity in ancient Nubia.  King Silko was in fact the Last Pharaoh in the Nile Valley and the first Christian king of Medieval Nubia.  The Nubian Pharaoh Silko was to ancient Nubia what Constantine was to Rome and the legend of King Arthur was to Britain, a founding Christian monarch and a transitional historical figure.”

I am extremely proud of the scholarship and accomplishments offered the world by these two exceptional men, both of whom I remain honored to know as colleagues and spiritual brothers. Their outstanding career successes call me back into renewed awareness of the grander context in which my day to day efforts exist for me. Despite how compartmentalized or disconnected my areas of service to humanity may seem to some, they are rooted and inspired by the core spiritual values of Black Christian Nationalism learned at the PAOCC and now currently imagined for this generation by the new revelations of “sovereign theology” exposed by the House of Amen reform movement for all Pan African diasporic faith traditions.

Mw. Kwabena Osei Nkromo

My career of civic and eventual public office, commitment to social-economic reform through the local food movement, and even professional trade as an eyebrow sculptor are all expressions of my life as art and ultimately holistic ministry. The examples of both my mother and grandmother were that of community evangelists that lived in dedication to the full human needs of others, this is the heritage of which I most authentically draw from in my life’s work. As the political season recedes for me somewhat and my local food advocacy work finds a certain maturity, I am moved to reconnect with the center that holds all things together for me. The work of liberation and d self-determination is at its core about personal and collective human transformation. Let the people say Amen!

Mwalimu Kwabena Osei Nkromo, Chief Evangelist and CEO of the House of Amen Southern Region.

Farmer Citizen-Food Rebel

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s parable The Grand Inquisitor:  “Today, people are persuaded more than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet…And we alone shall feed them…Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’”

Occupy Vine City "Food & Democracy" Teach-In (Earth Day 2012)Photo by Anna Kelley

I spent this past Saturday attending a composting workshop for an Edible Schoolyard we parents are developing at my son’s public school, preparing land for a new urban farm on The Beltline, and facilitating a Teach-In with Occupy Atlanta in the afternoon on the subject of “Food & Democracy”. As I sat in a circle with like minded people in the Vine City neighborhood discussing what it would take to for citizens to regain control of their food system in America, it occurred to me that I was completely enveloped that day in my life’s purpose. Between connecting with parents also working to bring horticultural literacy to their children’s schools and working alongside neighbors from across the city to grow food on a formally unused parcel of land, the stars in my political-social life felt fully in alignment.  It was a good Earth Day and I didn’t even have to use my AK.

Photo by Laura Berman

As discussed during the Occupy Atlanta Teach-In, “food democracy is a framework for making our food system more responsive to the needs of its citizens and decentralizing control. Tim Lang developed the term “food democracy” in the mid-1990s as a response to the increasing corporate control and lack of consumer participation in the food system. Food democracy is based on the principle that citizens or “food citizens” have the power to determine food policies and practices locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Food democracy asserts it is a right and responsibility of citizens to participate in decisions concerning their food system. (“What is Food Democracy” by Alexander Fisher,”

Speaking at the Atlanta Local Food Initiative (ALFI) inaugural conference.

As I prepare to run for elected office this year as a candidate of the Georgia Green Party, I feel the responsibility of making issues of food security and sovereignty for constituents central to my campaign. With the founding of Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network this past year, I am very involved with building the local food system needed to empower citizens to be in greater control of their most fundamental need in life. Beyond the community gardens or neighborhood urban farms however, we must have political representatives with enough experience and vision to chart a better way forward for our communities into the 21st century. I believe among other issues, the best way forward is involves a local economy based on urban agriculture. This conviction makes me a Farmer Citizen.

“The goal of food democracy is to ensure all citizens have access to affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate foods. Food democracy emphasizes social justice in the food system, and food is viewed as the center of the democratic process. The main challenge for food democracy is moving citizens from ‘passive’ to ‘active’. Getting citizens engaged in their food system. The alternative food movement is rapidly growing, but all individuals need to be involved or ‘vote’ to create a truly representative food system. (Fisher)”

Mark Winne

A have a friend named Mark Winne who writes, speaks, and consults extensively on community food system topics including hunger and food insecurity, local and regional agriculture, community food assessment, and food policy. He puts it this way, “The more people see to gain control over the food they eat and their larger food system, the more they discover the intrinsic logic of addressing food issues and increasing the food security of their own communities at the local and state levels. Because of their interest in community food security, activists, parents, farmers, and anyone who feels that he or she has a dog in the fight for healthy and affordable food have been turning increasingly to food policy and food system planning. (“Closing the Food Gap” by Mark Winne)”

Me with "food citizens" at Welch Street Park Community Garden in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of southwest Atlanta.

Mark wrote another book in which he coins a term that refers to those actively involved in the movement he describes above, from which I find much inspiration for my life’s work. “Finding ways to reassert our control in the face of power, to relearn skills that have atrophied during ages of dependency and neglect, and to rediscover a triumphant kind individualism that embraces both the self and community are the tasks that confront twenty-first-century adherents of the alternative food system. (“Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture” by Mark Winne)” As a food rebel, I am committed to a food-first policy of community building and social transformation. I believe it’s the only way to have true perfect freedom.

Kwabena "Cubby" Nkromo & community garden volunteer from Shiloh High School

In Pursuit of My Success

Despite how disingenuous it might seem, sometimes life is well understood through a caricature of itself. I find that my life does in fact often imitate art, at least when it comes to well made movies. The rapper turned actor Will Smith possesses a particular habit of performing in films that appear to have many of my experiences in mind when they were created. From “Hancock” (which spoke to what I feel is the misanthropic nature of my heroic side) to “The Pursuit of Happyness”, I frequently find myself bizarrely mirrored in the characters Will has selected for himself.

Will Smith's "Chris" hustlin'

The latter picture is particularly haunting to me and stirs deep emotions and moments of reflection every time I watch it. In “The Pursuit of Happyness”, Will plays a man named Chris (again, ironically the name my mother gave me before I changed it legally to Kwabena) who descends through a series of troubles that spiral out of control and eventually land him in homeless despair. Along with his son (played by Will’s real life boy Jaden), Chris scratches desperately to keep his head above water while simultaneously pursuing his dreams through a Forrest Gump-like chain of improbable events.  His eventually triumph is unmistakably a Hollywood necessity, but also a believable by product of one man’s dogged determination to succeed against all odds.

Kwabena as "Detroit Red" :-/

Even with a background full of sundry challenges, I can state categorically that 2011 was the absolute worse year of life. Following a painful divorce in early spring, I subsequently experienced my own rapid descent into crisis after crisis that shared much of the incredulousness displayed with Will’s role in the movie.  I left a secure job to launch an unproven business, had a huge publicly scandalous break up fight with a girlfriend, fell into homelessness after a sequence of unstable rooming situations, was assaulted by my ex-wife’s cousin after he abducted my son from me under direction from her, spent two days in jail on a scurrilous charge that was ultimately dismissed, and got assaulted and robbed by six or so young Black men in the Pittsburgh neighborhood who call themselves the “Jack Gang”. Lastly, I remain to this day in a financially tenuous situation that leaves me in arrears with child support payments that mars my self-perception as a decent father, the one modicum of self-respect that I was able to preserve over this time period to some measure.

The House of Amen ministries transitional living home in the Pittsburgh community

Looking back, I can scarcely believe it all happened. Moreover, it’s not clear exactly how I survived each succeeding blow and managed not to fall fully off the edge. Certainly, there were many friends and family members that leant a helping hand at certain critical moments. Nevertheless, for me there was an active Grace at work all the while that provided providential salvation despite my dire circumstances. I have tried to be a spiritual man for much of my life, but last year was my most visceral encounter with raw divinity in my life and a palpable sense of the presence of my ancestors watching over me. Given my previously assumed level of endurance, I have no rational explanation of why I am still here.

     “Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.” – Chris Gardner to his son Christopher in the 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness 

The really interesting thing is that more than surviving, I’m actually still standing. Through maelstrom described above I remained on a quixotic quest to begin a new ministry, launch yet another business venture, and started work on rehabilitating my damaged public reputation with a brief campaign for the Board of Education and advocacy for Atlanta Public School children. Most critically for me, I remained connected to my two young children in a meaningful way and fought to father them to best of my ability except for a few months when their mother did not honor my visitation rights. Due to this strange dichotomy of developments, I can honestly say that I am happy and extremely thankful to the universe for seeing me through in spite of all probable odds.

Mwalimu Kwabena making a video broadcast in a House of Amen chapel

Even still unlike what is implied by the title of Will’s movie, relative happiness itself is not enough for men like me and the character Chris. The elusive thing we are actually after is success and we will never be satisfied until it is achieved. This success is not that which may be deemed appropriate or achievable by others around us, exemplified by Chris’ wife’s belittlement of his goal to become a stockbroker. We are men of self-definition and uncommon determination, and we will accept nothing less than the success of our deepest temporal and spiritual desires. For me, that means not only earning a gainful income that will allow me to care for my children and other responsibilities. It also means being victorious with the multiple purposes of my soul, including expression of my being as a political and spiritual leader as well as successful entrepreneur. Similar to how brother 50 Cent says it, I am destined to get “saved” or die tryin’. Ase’?