A Holiday Invitation to Honor and Value Diversity
As we near the end of our fall semester here at Andrews University, I wanted to pause and take a moment to give you all this invitation to take the opportunity to think about how everyone in our global community celebrates some of these important moments and days during the upcoming holiday season, both in recent weeks and in the closing weeks of 2019.
These are all times when we as family, friends and fellow community members come together and express gratitude for all God has done throughout the year and look forward to what the upcoming year may have in store. However, it is also a time when we remember all of those around us who are less fortunate than we may be—a remembrance that motivates us into action so we can fill any voids that may exist and be the family and community they so desperately need.
In that spirit of remembering, here are some ways we can honor and value those who are around us during this holiday season:
- National Native American Heritage Month: The community of Native Americans incorporates hundreds of different tribes and approximately 250 languages. This observance was launched in 1976 as Native American Awareness Week. In 1990, Congress and President George H.W. Bush expanded this annual observance, designating November as National Native American Heritage Month, which is intended to learn about and celebrate the history and contributions of Native Americans. I also think it is extremely important that we recognize and acknowledge that our Berrien Springs campus sits on land that was once stolen from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi tribe. As is stated on the Potawatomi website, “Each indigenous nation has its own creation story.” This land seizure was driven by the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which established the conditions for the removal of the Potawatomi from the Great Lakes area. When Michigan became a state in 1837, more pressure was put on the Potawatomi to move west. The hazardous trip killed one out of every ten people of the approximately 500 Potawatomi involved. As news of the terrible trip spread, some bands, consisting of small groups of families, fled to northern Michigan and Canada. Some also tried to hide in the forests and swamps of southwestern Michigan. The U.S. government sent soldiers to round up any of the Potawatomi they could find and would then move them at gunpoint to reservations in the west. This forced removal is now called the Potawatomi Trail of Death, similar to the more familiar Cherokee Trail of Tears. However, a small group of Neshnabek (meaning “original” or “true people”), with Leopold Pokagon as one of their leaders, earned the right to remain in their original homeland, in part because they had demonstrated a strong attachment to Catholicism. It is the descendants of this small group who constitute the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. To learn more about the Pokagon tribe, please go here.
- Movember: Movember is an annual event which involves the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s suicide. By encouraging men to get involved, Movember aims to increase early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatments, and ultimately reduce the number of preventable deaths. Besides annual check-ups, the Movember Foundation encourages men to be aware of family history of cancer and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
- Veterans Day (November 11): Veterans Day is a U.S. federal holiday honoring military veterans. We commemorated this holiday on campus this year during our Veterans Day Tribute Service on November 12 in Buller Hall’s Newbold Auditorium. This annual service is coordinated by our Office of Veterans. This date is also celebrated as Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, in other parts of the world and commemorates the ending of World War I in 1918.
- Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20): Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is observed annually on November 20. This is a day to memorialize those who have been killed during the previous year as a result of anti-transgender violence and to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community around the world. For more information on how our campus seeks to create dialogue and care around this and related issues, please go here.
- Thanksgiving (November 28): It may appear ironic to some that at the end of a month in which we are called to honor the history and contributions of Native Americans, we end it by celebrating a holiday that has been clouded with controversy and narrative-altering since its inception. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November and is geared toward giving thanks for the blessings received during the year. I would urge us to remember that while there is good intent behind this goal—to spend time with family and give thanks to God for what He has done—it does not tell the holiday’s whole story. Since 1970, Native Americans have commemorated Thanksgiving by observing it as a National Day of Mourning. Each year, hundreds of Native Americans and allies gather at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to honor Native American ancestors who died due to the European invasion and to expose the awful history behind this November holiday. The National Day of Mourning’s organizers hope to shine a light on modern issues facing Native Americans today, as well as bring more awareness to the real and full story behind Thanksgiving. I invite you to take the opportunity at your Thanksgiving dinner table to reflect a bit more deeply on these difficult truths. Read more about the National Day of Mourning here. If you would like guides on how to discuss these topics with your family or younger children, go here.
- World AIDS Day (December 1): World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have HIV. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
- International Day of People With Disabilities (December 3): Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations (UN) has outlined and reiterated its commitment to calling for the creation of inclusive, accessible and sustainable societies and communities—most notably with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over time, the UN has honed its focus on promoting the wellbeing and welfare of people living with disabilities, and in 1992 it called for an international day of celebration for people living with disabilities to be held on December 3 each year. Learn more about this day of celebration here.
- International Human Rights Day (December 10): Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10—the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being—regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.
- Hanukkah (December 22–30): The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.
- Christmas (December 25): While it would be impossible to list them all, there are so many beautiful Christmas celebrations that take place all around the world celebrating the birth of Christ. For a plethora of examples of how Christmas is celebrated, I encourage you to go here. What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments or send us a note (email@example.com).
- Kwanzaa (December 26–January 1): Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (“seven principles” in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
As we enter this holiday season, I hope this invitation and these reminders of our shared history and journeys—some of them heartbreaking and against God’s plans for His children—have inspired you to perhaps approach the way that you celebrate and understand these weeks and the holidays they contain a bit differently.
While it is important to have fun and to unwind, I again invite you to take the opportunity, both individually and collectively, to reflect on the history that is at the foundation of these holidays we love and celebrate. They are all important opportunities for us to lean into the stories that make us all unique and valuable as we seek to understand the collective journeys that have led us all to this beloved community.
Grace, peace and love to you all during this holiday season of remembrance.
Michael Nixon, Vice President
Diversity & Inclusion