The seed was planted early in me to assist other people, especially the less fortunate by my family members. I always saw Mandy and Evan Johnakins, my grandparents, helping others in our community. They often let other people stay at their home when they did not have any other place to go. My grandmother used to cook fried chicken on Sundays for everybody in the neighborhood. They would share what they had with people near or far. My family showed me to always be willing to help if you can, show pride for your people and heritage that began in “Mother Africa”. “It takes a village to raise a child” My grandparents truly believed in “Unity is strength, division is weakness. ~ Swahili”.
My uncles were my heroes, role models and major influences on my life. They taught me how to play sports. I loved to play baseball the most and played while attending Germantown high school and for several city leagues. I believe that’s where I learned to appreciate teamwork.
In 1977, I experienced several disappointments: first, my high school counselor informed me that I was one credit short of getting my diploma and graduating with my class… which hurt. I dropped out. Second, my uncles dropped out of college. And third, my mother passed away and she had always showed unconditional love. As a result of these incidents, I lost my vision and became unwilling to help other people. I started to behave selfishly and thought only of myself. In 1980, I regained my consciousness and vision when my daughter was born, a baby girl name Tacya. Her birth inspired and motivated me to go back to school and get my GED at Temple University. I then went to trade school at night to study plumbing and follow in my grandfather’s footsteps.
Moving forward with my newfound skills, my grandfather and I started a plumbing drain cleaning business called Johnakins and Sons. I learned a lot from my grandfather about plumbing and much more about his life. I learned he had to fight and sue to get into the Plumber’s Union. His lawyer was the Honorable Cecil B. Moore, a former NCAAP president for Philadelphia. My grandfather was a member of Legendary Rev. Leon Sullivan‘s Church (Zion) the founder of Opportunity Industrial Center (OIC). These men showed him how to stand up for what was right and do something for the betterment of other people. I loved my grandfather and what he instilled in me.
Unfortunately, my grandfather became ill and had to be admitted to the hospital. After he got well enough to leave, the hospital sent him to a senior home because the house where he lived (the home where was raised) was not handicapped accessible. The doctors would not sign off on the release because they could be liable if he fell in house. As a result, my grandmother had no choice except to sign over their house to the senior citizen home and if or when my grandfather passed away, they would get the house. I did not believe that was fair. That house had a lot of sentimental value for me and my family. They should have had more options. Often when riding to Philadelphia with my doctor and homeboy Dr. Reginald Wills, he would mention to me that this type of incident happens all the time. He believed this practice is why many senior homes end up owning so much land in black communities. I started doing research and found that to be true.
Armed with new determination, I started going to classes on how to start a nonprofit business. My goal was to make the houses ADA approved. This would allow people to be mobile and safe in their homes. We used a community approach to make a decision on whose house would get renovated. The ultrament community approach uses the Kwanzaa principles (Nguzza Saba) 1. Unity, 2. Self-determination, 3. Creatively, 4. Collective Responsibility, 5. Faith , 6. Purpose, and 7. Cooperative Economics principles for black people. I learned about these principles from Baba Zulu, the founder of Ujamma Shule, oldest African Independent School in the Nation. These principles started to work into my spirit and made me aware of my African Ancestral present.
However, sadly in 1990, Tacya, my daughter developed a brain tumor. She passed away into an African Ancestral in 1995. I saw the Nguzza Saba principles work in our families’ lives as we struggled to accept our loss. I believe my faith was being challenged but through God’s grace my belief in a higher power returned in June of 1997. That belief, gave me the ability to continue to strive towards my goal, in 1999, Kwanzaa Associates, Inc. became a reality.
Since Kwanzaa Associates Inc. strives to bridge the gap between the old and the young, I expanded my community efforts to reach the youth with the development of a reading program (Tacya’s Reading Club) to help children ages 18 months to 5 years of age. My goal was help them develop an interest in reading books about their cultural and self-awareness at Maratha’s Table in Washington, D.C. The program was also designed to provide a positive male, nurturing influence to children who lacked that presence in their single parent homes, which is prominent in many black families. The reading program began in remembrance of my daughter, Tacya, who loved books. I believe my daughter’s reading ability soared when she was inspired by reading stories and seeing positive pictures about people of color. I wanted to provide that type of experience for other young children.
In 2001, I became a plumbing instructor at Booker T. Washington Technical Arts School (BTW), in Washington, D.C. where I was exposed to students that had fallen between the cracks. I recognized, from my observations that these teenagers had several special needs that were not being addressed. There I meet another instructor, William D. Jackson, who knew how to reach the students with the trades. The approach increased their participation, performance and learning ability in all their classes. The students became motivated to move on with their lives. We named the program Mistabilda’s XYZ ACCELERATED TRADE LEARNING SYSTEM which was specially formulated for the youth of the XYZ generation.
However, while developing this program, I realized that several key components and concepts were missing from the curriculum in regards to the actual mindset of the students. I recognized that the average student wasn’t really interested in the trades. They did not know that their ancestors were the builders of some of the greatest buildings in the world, nor how to tap into their spirits to become great builders of their own generation. We needed to get these students connected and engaged before we tried to force feed them Trade Education. We needed to help them become thriving youth by speaking to their souls and hearts in a manner that would get them excited to learn and use what they have in their spirits to earn a living with the acquired skills from Booker T. Washington PCS founded by Ed Pinkard.
We had a lot of freedom at BTW, which allowed my colleagues (Mama Hasinata , Mama Freedom , Viola Williams , Willie Jackson and myself ) to do a summer boot camp course entitled “Construction Mind, Body and Spirit (2009)”, which incorporated these Kwanzaa Principles. We considered this our entry level program because it dealt with the “Whole Being”.
I also had the opportunity to assist the people of New Orleans, Louisiana and travel with the Discover Service Project P.A. 2006 to 2008 to assist with the rebuilding of a great city damaged by Hurricane Katrina. On that trip, I learned firsthand how much work that the religious organizations where contributing. This experience assisted in broadening my mind and spirit to ask the ancestors for more travel opportunities. I came to believe at this date and time the higher powers will give you everything you ask for with in its own time, but one must be ready to receive it.
In 2006, one of my silent prayers was answered by my higher power and I had the opportunity to travel to the Africa (the Mother Land) with the Non-profit organization d’Zert Club and its Founders Helen and Ali Salahauddih. We traveled for two weeks and made stops at the Pyramids in Egypt, Slave Castles in Ghana and Nigeria. This trip assured me that I was on the correct road and was being guided by the Nguza Saba. I also had the pleasure of seeing the Giant Goddess Arrusta Dolls in the Water when I traveled to Bahia San Paolo, Brazil on New Year’s in 2007.
In the summer of 2008, as part of the All African People Revolutionary, G.C. Party delegation, we traveled to Havana, Cuba for the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. During that experience, I saw the Kwanzaa Spirit at work on a National level. There were other Africans born in America volunteering and assisting the Cuban people in their struggle because of the imposed blockade. On this trip, I meet the late, Reverend Lucia Walker, (Founder and President of IFCO (Pastors for Peace), the oldest black foundation in the United States. His organization had been collecting donated goods from Canada and United States for over 20 years. That year 1600 tons of goods were donated. This was another example of “people helping people”.
After witnessing IFCO’s charitable activities, I wanted to assist the Cuban People with my skills and service ability. Kwanzaa Associates Inc. started collecting power tools for the Pastors for Peace Caravan. In 2010, we organized and took a group of volunteer plumbers to work with the Cuban people on mini-construction plumbing Brigades in Playa, Havana. We also worked on a 12- unit apartment complex with 50% of the people who was going live in the complex. They worked alongside of us and assisted in any way they could such as cooking, cleaning up and offering whatever skills they had to contribute.
On that trip, I met Pan African Film Producer, Gloria Rolando. She created independent documentaries about the plight of the Afro-Cuban. One of films entitled, “1912 Breaking the Silence” was filmed partly in Santiago, Cuba where the majority of people were Afro-Cubans.
So being the Pan African that I am, I wanted to see Santiago. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed many trees and homes in Santiago and the island of Cuba. Gloria Rolando gave me some contacts, I visited and I have been working with Santiago, Cuban construction teams ever since.
I am driven by two things, my desire to help people and to use the resources around me to further the mission of Kwanzaa Associates Inc. My journey continues…