Not even inclement weather could stop Westsiders from filling Austin Town Hall, Dec. 30, for the third annual Kwanzaa celebration sponsored by the Austin African-American Business Networking Association (AAABNA). The event took place on day five of Kwanzaa, designated “Nia,” meaning purpose.

The AAABNA is a group of business people who came together in 2003 to create African-American business growth through community networking. They provide nurturing and support for emerging and existing businesses. The association officers are Malcolm Crawford, executive director; Ade Onayemi, board chairman; Rickey Sanders, treasurer; and Renny Smith, secretary.

During the proceedings, Crawford put in a passionate plea to install a plaque or statue of recognition for Leola Spann and Ed Bailey, key community leaders on the West Side, both of whom died in 2005, as a permanent memorial to their contributions. The program began with a community drum circle welcome and prayer by Minister Rickey Sanders. Ade Onayemi explained the organization’s mission and purpose and Crawford discussed the meaning of Kwanzaa. African dance by Local-Motions and Atiba Jali and the Busa Family provided entertainment. Spoken Word artist “Mama” Brenda Matthews got the audience in the spirit of the evening with a rousing recitation.

Presentation of awards went to: Austin Career Academy/Westside Alternative High School, this reporter (Community Service Award) and Margaret Garner, proprietor of Broadway Consolidated Companies (Businessperson of the Year).

The keynote speaker was Rev. Gregory Seals Livingston, pastor of Mandell United Methodist Church, 5000 W. Congress Pkwy. Rev. Livingston, a young, progressive minister, is very involved in Austin community activities and especially active with young people. He recently succeeded Rev. Lewis Flowers as head of the Westside Ministers Coalition. His message: “In poor neighborhoods people find other ways to make money if there are not jobs or if there is not the possibility for a career. You all know ‘Boo, Pookey, Ray-Ray.’ They find other ways to make money. Now I’m not condoning what they do, but I believe that God has put in every one of us the urge to produce, the urge to multiply, the urge to be fruitful, the urge to take dominion and the urge to subdue. All they’re doing is taking the urge, but they are going in the wrong direction.

“Do you know what we could have if we formed a corporation with Boo, Shenay-nay and Pookey, if we could channel the urge, redirect the urge? We could have power. They got the power now?”if you’re scared to walk down your street, they got the power. If you’re scared to sit on your porch, they got the power. If you’re scared to come out at night, they got the power. So what the businessmen and what the Westside Ministers Coalition has done is said, ‘Principal Scott, you cannot close down Austin High School.’

“I wasn’t always a preacher. I used to work in the financial markets right here in Chicago. Lehman Brothers Investment Bank, multimillion dollar deals going down, and I got a chance, as a little boy from the hood, to sit at the table with financial icons. And you know something? They didn’t talk about black folks, they didn’t talk about white folks, they didn’t talk about yellow folks, they didn’t talk about brown folks. They talked about one color and one color only?”it was all them dead presidents.

“When I talk with gangbangers, I say, ‘Hey man, when was the last time you seen a white man shoot a man over here? When was the last time you seen a brother shoot a brother?’ ‘Oh Boo shot Pookey last week.’ In this situation, what you have is individuals who lack proper knowledge and who lack the hope to believe and understand that just because you were born in the ghetto, the ghetto don’t have to be in you. We got our people out of slavery, now we must get the slavery out of our people. In the analysis of power, power is neutral. When you don’t have money, the opposite of wealth is not poverty. The opposite of wealth is not being poor. The opposite of wealth is shame. Why? Because you don’t have what you want?”to be able to get stuff for your family. So the human being will find a way to get it. We confuse power with respect. We have confused it because we’d rather have respect than have power. I’d rather have a title than have power, I’d rather have you say nice things about me than have power, I’d rather have you visit my church on election day than have power. I don’t want respect, I want power. ‘Cause if you got power, only a fool will not respect you. Don’t apologize for wanting finer things, don’t apologize for wanting money, don’t apologize for wanting power. The evil is not having power, the evil is in being powerless. God don’t make junk. When he made you in his image, he made you to be powerful. So don’t sit around criticizing other folk that got power. You get power by organizing. Westsiders, stop fighting Southsiders; Southsiders, stop fighting Westsiders. Organize.”

The evening concluded with gospel recording artists, The Brown Sisters, who brought the audience to their feet with their singing. Closing prayer was by Rev. Livingston.