American author, poet and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks once wrote: “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Born at a time of political turmoil in the US, Brooks came of age as the civil rights movement encouraged young black people to successfully engage in political activism. African Americans at the time faced many challenges in society than even today.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a reflection of longstanding racism within American society, something that stems from years of institutional and societal inequality that blacks experience.
This discrimination led to strong bonds within the communities surrounding Brooks throughout the 20th Century.
Her main themes described the personal celebrations, as well as struggles, or ordinary people in her community, as well as the bonds that formed when members of the community supported each other and came together.
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As a black woman in a field still dominated by white men in the US, Brooks was quite exceptional in her exploration of these themes of community and unity. This sense of belonging helped strengthen her to become the great writer that she was, and propped her up to receive many accolades for her work throughout the years, including becoming the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize.
We can learn much from her life and her message. Throughout much of her work, she explored themes similar to the aforementioned quote. We are each other’s harvest. This means we grow through the growth of others. We develop and flower when we are supported, and give the same to our family and our community.
We are each other’s business. This indicates that wealth and prosperity is all interconnected. One person is not going to become wealthy while his neighbour remains poor.
We are too economically interconnected on the micro and macro levels to benefit at the expense of others. When we rise, so do others. When we are rich, the people around us benefit as well. One cannot prosper at the expense of others for too long, it will always come back to haunt them in the end.
We are each other’s magnitude and bond. This is the strongest line of her poem. Magnitude and bond - these are very powerful concepts, verbal representations of a much more profound symbol. As Kenyans, for example, the fact that we are all cut from the same national cloth holds us together in more ways than we can imagine. No matter where we go or who we become, we, as members of the same nation, will always be interlinked.
Our magnitude is only possible as part of a large, complete whole. Magnitude is not an adjective that can be attributed to an individual - only to a group and a community. This is the kind of spirit we should be constantly embracing as Kenyans, now more than ever.
For too many years, the Kenyan society forgot how we harvested each other. We were focused only on individualism at the expense of the community, forgetting that we all come from the same community. No matter the tribe, as part of this State we all have shared experiences. Those experiences are more powerful in magnitude than the ones we experience alone.
While Kenya was once a divided nation, this sort of distrust among neighbours, or failure to support each other, resulted in too much chaos. It hindered our growth. It kept us from achieving the socio-economic greatness destined for us.
But when a simple handshake between two representatives of different communities, two men that had been born to oppose each other, put the past behind them, it changed our nation.
It has been more than two years since President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga just decided to bury the hatchet and let go of historic differences. No, it was not easy, but difficult circumstances often bring people together. This was certainly the case in Gwendolyn Brooks’ life story.
The two decided to bring us together and eradicate the rivalries that threatened to tear us apart. We need to remember this spirit of unity during the Covid-19 pandemic, and let it guide us onward and upwards.
-The writer is MP for Igembe North