For each day of Kwanzaa, the African-American cultural holiday that eschews the typical commercialism of the holiday season, we will be highlighting a person or persons from the past year who exemplifies the principle of the day. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 to uplift a sense of community through the principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith—all things which have helped us to survive since we were dropped on these shores some 400 years ago.
For today, Dec. 27, the principle is Kujichagulia, or “self-determination.” To practice Kujichagulia (pronounced koo-gee-cha-guu-leeah), arguably the most difficult of the Kwanzaa tenets to say, is to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
The person who best exemplified that is none other than professional football player Marshawn Terrell Lynch, who remains as determined as ever to define and speak for himself.
Although Lynch has not been as active in the national anthem protests began in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick (though he did remain in the locker room as it played this year) as the women of a Philly-area KFC, there was one singular action that sealed the deal.
On Monday, Lynch, currently a running back for his hometown Oakland Raiders (coincidentally the city where Kwanzaa was created), tried to light what looked like a blunt from the Al Davis eternal flame at the last game the Raiders will play at the Oakland Coliseum.
Sure, marijuana is legal in California, but Lynch, who may have been living out a bucket list item, surely knows that the uber-conservative, racist, and plantation-mentality NFL would surely frown upon his actions. And he did it anyway. As with many of his actions over the years, the locked lion went with his heart, which beats to the cadence of a warrior who refuses to kowtow to fruitless expectations, respectability politics, or anti-community influences.
Consider this: Lynch refuses to be a slave to the NFL. The majority of pro football players look like him, and are therefore subject to the deadly, racist impulses of the police. He once said he’d rather see Kaepernick take a knee on the field than stand, put his hands up, and get murdered.
From looking at his high school photo, it is apparent that Lynch gave up a promising career as a youth pastor or a regional manager at Office Depot to become one of the most celebrated backs in football history.
He also stood for the Mexican anthem; has not spent a penny of his NFL money; and refused to speak to the press, answering: “I’m just here so I won’t be fined” after games because Lynch refuses to jump (or even move) when the NFL or its owners say he must. The fact that he wears gold grills, is hated by racists (which means you’re doing something right), and won a Super Bowl ring just rounds out my admiration for the man.
Marshawn Lynch, you are the epitome of self-determination, and perhaps if you lived even some 60 years ago, your last name would be your fate. But, alas, it is not, and for your brazen, autonomous actions, we salute you, Beast Mode.
Not only do you do it your way, but you do the right thing as well.
Who do you think best embodied self-determination in the one-eight? Sound off in the comments.