“The President’s Pespective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
As the year comes to a close, many of us across Milwaukee are celebrating the holidays in various ways. We all have our own distinct set of practices and beliefs; however, these celebrations do not have to exist in separation. At their cores, these days all have a common purpose–to reflect on the values of your tradition with the people that you love. Today, in the midst of this holiday season, we have the opportunity to explore the values of multiple celebrations and take from them something valuable. The values rooted in Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa share many similarities that we can all look to during this season.
The first value that each holiday embodies is that of Unity. In the tradition of Hanukkah, the unity of the Jewish people is front and center in the minds of those who celebrate. In times of oppression and religious persecution Jewish people maintained a devotion to preserving their identity and remaining united against the forces against them. Kwanzaa echoes this through the principle of Umoja (Unity).
This principle calls us to reflect on maintaining the unity of our family, community, nation and race. Some do so through a poem or passage. Others share how they feel this principle applies to their own lives. In the Christmas tradition, we see many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to heal and unite the world.
What can the principle of Unity mean for Milwaukee? We know that in this City we are often defined by our divisions. Whether it is between racial groups or people who live on opposite sides of a highway, Milwaukee is talked about as a place divided. As I speak to people across the City, I am reminded that we are so much more similar than we are different. People in Old North have similar struggles to the people in Amani, the people in Clarke Square, the people in the Woodlands and the people in Concordia. We all want the same things for ourselves and each other. In a time where many of us are already meditating on the idea of Unity, let’s think about ways we can act united. If we remain in our silos, we will never see what’s best for Milwaukee.
Another value that numerous people in Milwaukee are celebrating this time of year is the idea of Purpose. Christians are reflecting on the purpose of Jesus’ life on Earth to bring peace, hope and salvation to all nations. In this same spirit, many people celebrate Christmas by giving their time to serve others and expressing generosity to family members and strangers alike. Kwanzaa reflects on the principles of Nia (Purpose) and Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility). How can we make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and solve them together? How can we recommit to a collective vocation of building people up to restore them to their traditional greatness? Celebrants of Hanukkah reflect on their ancestors’ sense of purpose as they fought for liberation.
What can we do to renew the purpose of Milwaukee? Our City ought to be a place where every person is nurtured and able to flourish. We can be a place where everyone feels cared for and valued, but that ideal will never be fulfilled if we do not live with that purpose at the forefront of everything we do. My call to our City is to think about ways that you can serve others every day, not just around the times when altruism is expected. Can we show others love in every interaction and allow our collective purpose to supersede our selfish ambitions? There are moments in every day where we have the choice to build someone up, tear them down or leave them alone. Let’s reflect on the ways we can make the choice to construct a better community for everyone in Milwaukee.
Hope is another shared idea of this time. Celebrants of Kwanzaa conclude their Nguzo Saba (seven principles) with Imani, meaning faith. We are called to acknowledge our belief in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the victory of our struggle. Members of the Jewish tradition light candles to connect them to the victory of their ancestors in the face of oppression. Their ancestor’s held a deep hope and faith in their deliverance and a small group of people was able to overcome. Christians celebrate Jesus as the deliverer of hope to the world, and a promise that blessings lie ahead.
Do we see hope in Milwaukee? Do we believe that tomorrow will be better than today even if we cannot guarantee or prove that it will happen? This concept is really at the center of what I believe is needed in our society. We can never get complacent. We can never think that this is as good as it is going to get or that a trail forward cannot be blazed. We must always cling to hope as an expectation that things will get better and a motivator to do what we can to turn that expectation into a reality. That is the only way we improve the lives of ourselves and those with whom we share this City.
The holidays I have mentioned in this article each have much more to them than this simple outline. Each has a unique history and depth that make its traditions special for those who celebrate, and can sometimes make it mysterious to those who don’t. What I hope we can do as a community is remove the commercialization and misrepresentations that can surround each of these holidays and dive into what they truly mean. Gain some knowledge about the principles that others hold dear in this season. How do the values of another tradition align with my own? What principles celebrated by my neighbor could I adopt to become a better steward to my community? In this time of reflection, it is imperative that we expand our worldview and do everything we can to unite on our common ground and move this City forward.