Kamau Ayubbi on Including Yourself in the Big Picture of Love

Updated: Jun 17

I first met Kamau Ayubbi in 2019, where the two of us along with ~30 other graduate and PhD students spent a week at the Vallombrosa Center in Menlo Park, California. We were there for our Fall Seminar, a required week of study. I remember sitting at our lunch table, talking about a subscription service that uses quantum energy to raise the hertz of your home to the vibration of love, according to the Hawkins Map of Consciousness. I could see Kamau thinking intently. When I asked him if he thought I sounded crazy, he shook his head and smiled, and said, “Not at all...” just that he was blown away by the interesting conversations we were all having.


There are things I noticed about Kamau right away: his accepting presence, strong sense of self, smile that lights up a room, and quest for knowledge. Over time, I have learned more about his heart. He is chaplain at a hospital, a seeker and a believer, an artist, and passionate storyteller – and person always in service. It is no surprise the word "love" is mentioned here 40 times.

AT: Just after George Floyd’s death, we were texting, and you must have sensed my emotion because you asked if I wanted to talk. I was telling you about something hateful I had read.

Kamau with his mother and three of his four children.

KA: These are trying times. I have black friends all along the spectrum. Some are angry at everything. I understand the anger. And I understand the frustration of white people who want to make things right. We are all handling it differently. All of this is too much to comprehend at the moment. There are too many debates, our brains are overloaded.

AT: Yes and there are so many years of hatred and oppression, and raw emotion coming up. In fact, you have been reflecting on your childhood.


KA: Yes, I have been thinking about how it was growing up in Los Angeles. I remember my mother, who is Japanese-American, had this book, Black Is Beautiful. When I was learning how to read early on, I asked her, “Mom, why do you have this book, Black Is Beautiful?” She said, “This book was made because there are people in this world who deny this beauty.” So it was in my mind. Even just taking in the words, “Black is Beautiful.” As a child, you do not have any resistance to it. You think, “Okay, my mom is saying 'black is beautiful,' so black is beautiful.” You see the words, and you take them in. Somehow, the people I was around gave me the impression that being black was something sacred, that it was beautiful.


As a child, you do not have any resistance to it. You think, "Okay, my mom is saying 'black is beautiful,' so black is beautiful.


The types of people I knew that held this identity of being black – it was a beautiful thing. You had Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Mutulu Shakur. Our family was surrounded by artists, creatives, and intellectuals. The culture I saw was something very beautiful, so much to the extent that as a kid, I did not think black people smoked cigarettes. I had it in my mind that cigarettes were dirty, and I had such a high opinion of black people I did not even think they would smoke cigarettes.

Kwame Brathwaite, a New York photojournalist, captured the Black Is Beautiful movement in the 1960's.

AT: That is a fantastic self-image to have as a young boy.

KA: It did not last long. As I grew up and went to school, people started making fun of me. Even people who looked like me. They have internalized that something like an African name is inferior, not something to be loved, or not a symbol of beauty. Kids used to make fun of my lips, my big forehead, and my name – an African name – even though I was in Los Angeles around many different types of people. Regardless, the world gave me this message that I was not accepted. My name was rejected, and how I looked was rejected.

AT: I can only imagine this causes a war within.

KA: I definitely had an internal struggle. I wondered, “Why can’t I just have a name like John or Max? Why can’t I have smaller lips, and a smaller forehead?” You struggle with that as a child. You have this idea of what you think your identity and culture is, and then the world starts confronting that.

My mom, Nobuko Miyamoto, actually wrote a song called, “What is the Color of Love,” because one day when I was little, I asked my mom, “Why do people hate black people SO much.”


AT: Heartbreaking. What an amazing mom.

KA: We have people around the world, not just in the United States, pleading “black lives matter, black lives matter,” and there is a public debate about it.

I am talking about a culture who has faced a narrative of a message of hatred, physically, emotionally, psychologically, academically.


AT: Just hearing a black man having to say, “There is a public debate about whether black lives matter,” it hurts me. The only way I can make sense of it is there are people who cannot wrap their minds around what oppression is, what it feels like, what it means, the damage... We come from a history of pictures of little white girls smiling in pictures while a black man is hanging from a tree. That is the truth. There was never a question if white lives “mattered” based on our history.

KA: Exactly. I am talking about a culture who has faced a narrative of a message of hatred, physically, emotionally, psychologically, academically. A people who, in spite of all of that horror... well I will just say, yes, there is collateral damage. Many people internalize hatred for what is African, because it is all you get from the world.

AT: How can our world expect black people to hold themselves in high regard, to know their self-worth, when the messages they receive from our world is that they are less valuable? I have a deaf brother, and I remember him telling me when we were younger, that he noticed the TV showed mostly black people on the news for crime. My heart broke for him because I knew I had the ability to talk to people more than he did. He was getting his world view from TV.

KA: It is true, when I moved to Detroit I turned on the TV and the way black people were being depicted on television, it was so disturbing for me. It was not innately what I know the image of black people to be.

You are in a constant battle to remember that this image of you is deserving of love, that this image of you is deserving of respect.

Mural by Kamau Ayubbi and Eric Norberg

AT: What is your perspective on protesting?

KA: My prayers go out to people who are trying to stand up for their dignity. They are looking for an outlet to stand as human beings. Now, this is also under attack.

It is such a soup of all kinds of forces at once. When you are in the streets, who is running the show? We do not know. We have activists, counter-activists, young people – everyone is looking for answers. The constant that comes out of that is love. I know those protesting are trying to stand for love.


(Click the image to the right to read about the 1996 controversy surrounding the original mural at San Francisco State University and how Kamau Ayubi and Eric Norberg won a contest to paint a new mural.)


You are in a constant battle to remember that this image of you is deserving of love, that this image of you is deserving of respect.

When the external world is blocking, or denying, or not sharing with us, what love is – that we are created through love and we come from love – then that becomes our soul work, to reconnect with love. There is a struggle within us is to remember and include ourselves and others in this big picture of love.

AT: How does this feel for you, being Japanese-American and African-American?

KA: There have been times in my life I remember asking myself, “Will I be black enough, will I be Asian enough?” I do not know. I do not have the one answer of how you do it right.

There is also a constant redefinition of who we are in the history of this country. We have gone from the “N” word, to the Negro, to the “Afro American” to the “Black American,” to the “New African,” to the “African-American.” It has been a rehashing of identities, and redefining the perception of who we are.

AT: I am asking myself, psychologically, how does one reconcile their self-image, self-esteem, and who they are as an individual.

KA: Ideologically people are bombarded with confusing information. This is the work of getting into a place where – whatever we’ve been through – we have to ask ourselves if we see the traces of love that persist. I look for the traces of love. I make it a point to recognize the spark in my mate, in my child, in people who look like me.

AT: I cannot imagine how hurtful it is to watch the world debate if your life matters.

KA: There is no end to judgement about whether one person or culture is worthy. I’ve heard people say, “Look at these animals.” It is tiring.

AT: But that is where you say, you protest in your heart.

KA: Yes, to yourself, you say “no.” In your own heart, you protest the debasement of human beings. All of us are ignorant, and we remain ignorant if we do not acknowledge love. We have to walk the journey of self-love.


Our world uses morality as a sword on populations. When we look down on people, we are looking down on God.

AT: What do you think about white people who claim to be religious but have enjoyed “the good life” without really educating themselves about under-privileged populations? I think back to when I was a schoolteacher teaching ESL. Several families did not want “those kids” at their school.

KA: I used to work in the projects in San Francisco, and I walked with one woman who had more spirit than I do, and she was selling crack because it was the means she had to feed her daughter. Some people would look down on her. Our world uses morality as a sword on populations. When we look down on people, we are looking down on God. It is not correct. Yes, be moral. But, you go into a beautiful neighborhood in the suburbs and they have the exact same issues, wrapped up in a more expensive package.


Artwork by Kamau Ayubbi. This reads: "be" and "it is" in Arabic.

AT: You are a chaplain at a hospital in Michigan. How has this affected you?

KA: There are people in a worse situation than I am physically, who have vastly more love than I do. My memory is racing from my hospital care about so many people who have shown me the power of love can come from people with nothing. They have a worse situation than me physically, but a better situation spiritually. I have met people who this system looks down on, like healers, who heal people, feed people, and give from what they have – they understand love.

I have known people who are being treated for cancer, because the system dumps toxins by their homes. Their cancer is from environmental toxins. They do not have running water or heat in their houses, but they still take care of their families and grandchildren. They still heal others. What is that? They have love.

AT: What do you say to people who say, “Who cares. Healers will not save us. Love won’t save us.”

KA: Ultimately, in the end, what do we want? Without love, we have hatred and denial.

AT: What does your heart want to say to black people right now?


As much as we are exposed to propaganda, hatred and division, make sure you take time to include yourself in the big picture of love. Do not let oppression steal you of love.

KA: As much as we are exposed to propaganda, hatred and division, make sure you take time to include yourself in the big picture of love. Do not let oppression steal you of love. Carry love in your heart for yourself and the next person. Do you know someone who has more love than you do? Connect with them. It is your birthright to get to that fountain of love. Find those who can connect with you in the spirit of love, and allow yourself to be in that waterfall. If you are bewildered right now, be bewildered in love. Accept that love is the reality of the essence of life. Move through your life returning to that.

AT: And for me?

KA: I pray for you, you pray for me. I send you love, you send me love. Let us keep it going. Let us keep looking for those traces of love.

AT: That is my commitment to you. Thank you for your friendship, Kamau.

KA: And you, Amie.


Kamau is a Chaplin at Michigan Hospital. To listen to his latest meditation project for the hospital, visit https://mmspiritualcare.org/about-in-progress/meditation-vlog/kinder-garden-of-meditation/

83 views

©Copyright 2020 Amie Tyler  |  Survival to Sacred LLC  |  San Mateo, CA

  • Instagram