Dispatches From The Kwanzaa Kid: Cops, Crack Rock and Why My Mama Doesn’t Have a Kwanzaa Cup

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The thing you must know about Kwanzaa is that it really isn’t seven times the holiday that Christmas is because, although you receive gifts every day during Kwanzaa, the Kwanzaa haul isn’t really as lucrative as the Christmas haul.

No one in the history of Kujichagulias has ever received a bike for Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa gifts are kinda shitty. They’re often handmade and are supposed to represent the Kwanzaa principles. Sometimes my family bucked the trend. The best Kwanzaa gift I ever received was a kid-sized acoustic guitar that my cousin Tyran melted a little bit by using it as a fireplace poker one time.

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It still played pretty good, though.

Oh, one time my grandma gave me and Tyran matching boom boxes. Well, they weren’t really boom boxes, per se. They didn’t really boom, nor did they have cassette decks, It was more of a blah box. But I still appreciated it.

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My mom would also give us some money to purchase or make Kwanzaa gifts. It wasn’t a lot because we didn’t have a lot. But still, I kinda got excited about Kwanzaa gifts because the challenge was giving something that matched the Kwanzaa principle and making the receiver happy. If there’s one thing I can say about Kwanzaa, I must admit that it has made me an excellent giver of gifts.

Anyway, this is the story of how police brutality, Bell Biv Devoe and the illegal cocaine trade prevented me from giving my mama a Kwanzaa gift.

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Now, the first thing you should know is that I grew up with a cousin who was more like a brother, the previously-mentioned Tyran. Tyran was a year younger than me and his mother and my mother were sisters. For most of their lives, they only lived a few feet away from each other except for a brief period in the early ’90s when my aunt moved and Tyran went to a high school about 40 miles away.

Now all of his life, Tyran had been involved in singing groups. Aside from our masterpiece Kwanzaa carol set to Tony Braxton’s “Seven Whole Days” (which you might get to hear later this week) he also performed in a group called “Mass Appeal” which was basically a knockoff of New Edition without the Jheri curls or the hit songs.

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Well, on the night before Christmas, Mass Appeal was set to battle the notorious rap group, Posse, (Not “the Posse,” stupid. Just “Posse.”) in what was always a huge Christmas Eve talent show at his high school. Every year, this was the place where high-schoolers from near and far (mostly near) went on Christmas Eve.

You might not understand how big a deal this is. Imagine if Migos had to battle B2K live on stage for the Artist of the Year Grammy. It was the most anticipated show of the year and I had to be there to support my cousin. No, it was not about the high school girls who were going to be there, that I would get to be the “cousin from out of town” or the fact that there was going to be an afterparty where students would grind their pelvic bones into dust slow-dancing. This was all about support.

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But I was broke. And I didn’t have a ride.

Luckily, I had a solution for this. See, Christmas Eve is essentially Kwanzaa pregame. Any long-celebrator of Kwanzaa knows that you can’t buy presents on Kwanzaa Eve because that’s Christmas and everything is closed. My plan was to take the money my mom would give me for Kwanzaa shopping, buy some bullshit, and use the rest to ball out at the talent show.

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Now every year, my mom gave my sisters and I some money to buy her a Kwanzaa gift. I am sure the gifts were all terrible and cheap, but my sisters and I would put a lot of effort into the mama Kwanzaa gift. We wouldn’t even let each other know what we were getting because in the late ’80s Robin stole my idea of buying a Bible cover and bought one too. But Robin had my mom’s name engraved on hers and I was pissed (it was pretty nice, though). After the first day, we would basically argue about whose gift was better.

Luckily, I found a ride with my classmate Lydell Hawkins. Because his name also began with an H, Lydell and I had been friends for years because we had homeroom together every year since 7th grade. Lydell drove a 1977 Plymouth Volare with a burgundy top. I’m sure that every drug dealer in town offered him money for that car because it was clean and in vintage shape.

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So on Kwanzaa Eve eve, we went to the mall, which was crazy crowded, where I found the perfect gift: A Kwanzaa cup! It was basically a shitty little coffee mug with the Kwanzaa principles on it. What was cool about it was that you couldn’t see the principle until the cup had hot liquid in it. And it was cheap.

Having secured the Kwanzaa bag, we headed to the show sitting on the Mass Appeal side of the gym. Now there were a million acts but only two mattered: Posse and Mass Appeal.

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Everyone knew what Posse was going to do. First of all, Posse was bigger than the Wu-Tang Clan and their members changed all the time. Their entire schtick was that the members would rap about anything they wanted, but the chorus was always the same:

Heeeey We want some Poss-sayyyy
Whatchu want, girl?
Heeeey We want some Poss-sayyyy
What you need girl?
Heeeey We want some Poss-sayyyy

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Now Posse wouldn’t sing the chorus. They would select the finest tenth and eleventh-grade girls to chant the chorus and perform as “Posse Girls.” Man, dating a Posse Girl was like dating Beyoncé back then. Posse Girls were basically the Victoria Secrets models of my youth.

Anyway, Posse killed that shit.

But when it was time for Mass Appeal, these niggas did an entire medley of hit R&B songs beginning with Bell Biv Devoe’s warning to never trust a big butt and a smile and ending with Hi-Five’s “I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)” all while wearing the BBD airbrushed overall shorts and the Malcolm X hats (Look, it was the ’90s!) In case you didn’t know, the only thing women like more than clever puns (women like puns, right?) is niggas who can sing falsetto. And them niggas sang y’all.

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And they won.

Even Lydell got some action (And by “getting some action,” I mean getting some phone numbers because that meant you were really doing it in the eleventh grade!) Basking in all of that high school glory, I totally forgot my curfew and I knew I was going to be in trouble. But there was the possibility that I could sneak into my room, which had its own door that led to the outside, without my mother hearing me. So I instructed Lydell to let me out on the corner and I would walk home so his loud-ass old-school car wouldn’t wake anyone up. Lydell didn’t even make it a block before he swooped around pulled up next to me and handed my Kwanzaa cup that I had forgotten in his car. Then he went home.

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There was only one problem with my plan.

I lived off of 8th Street.

My childhood home was basically just off the strip of what was basically a Walmart for crack. We had all the cracks. The crack rocks. The crack cookies. The crack that was whack. The crack that killed Applejack. All the cracks.

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So at 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve, what looked like a strange dopeboy’s car pulled up next to me, handed me something through the window, and disappeared into the night.

I can see how that looked suspicious.

To be fair, when the cops jumped out of nowhere, I probably looked like a crackhead. My clothes were askew. I was tired. I was yelling some nonsense about being careful with the Kwanzaa cup. Yeah, I could see how I seemed like a crackhead.

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As they searched for the crack I had obviously thrown away, with one officer keeping his knee on my neck, I didn’t even try to argue. All I could do was to try to save my own life. So I begged and I pleaded with everything I had. Oh, I didn’t care if they shot me in the head or anything ...

I just didn’t want them to break my mama’s Kwanzaa Cup.

They smashed that shit to bits.

Then they let me go.

I swear to you, of all the things I have ever seen police do, and I have seen police kill people, the saddest, most pitiful I have ever felt is walking that two hundred yards or so after that motherfucker stomped on my mother’s $8 Kwanzaa cup.

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When I got home, my mom was waiting and I didn’t even try to defend myself. I just listened to my mother yell at me. She yelled at me for being late. Then she yelled at me for being selfish and spending money on a talent show. My mother can lay a guilt trip with the best of them and it was worse than having a knee at my neck. Even worse, everything she said was right.

All she ever tried to do was to make us happy. She never cared about a Kwanzaa gift but I’m sure she was upset that her only son would rather slow-dance with second-string Posse girls than get her a damn Kwanzaa gift.

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I had one job.

A few days later, or maybe even the next day, a neighbor who saw the entire incident told my mom that the police had beat me up. She tried to tear a new hole in the entire police department’s ass but nothing ever came of it.

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When my sisters gave my mom her Kwanzaa gifts that year, I felt really bad because the Kwanzaa gift for mom was not only an in-house competition, it was a tradition. I know my mom was hurt by the one time in her life that she didn’t get a gift because she must have mentioned it to my youngest sister. Since that Kwanzaa and until this day, my youngest sister forces me to send the gift in advance for all of my mother’s birthdays, holidays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. I don’t even argue.

And that’s the story of the cops, the crack and the Kwanzaa cup.

Happy Kwanzaa.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.