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kwanzaa

In 2006, my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, so I could pursue my screenwriting career.

Thanks to the networking skills of my buddy David, I went to work right away writing a script.  It was a frightening tale about a serial killer with an odd sense of social justice.  (I’ll just leave it at that.)

Bringing my press secretary work ethic to Hollywood, I surprised many by completing a first draft in less than six months.

Soon, I was going from meeting to meeting.  Paramount Studios.  The William Morris Agency.  Life was exciting — but far from good.

Since I throw myself into my work, my wife noticed the nefarious storyline was slowly corrupting my soul and personality.

Finally, the holidays came. In an attempt to bring light back into my world, she started pitching story ideas to write about that were filled with good cheer.

Each one, I rudely rejected.

Nothing worked, but she kept on trying.  Finally, she said the words that would change the direction of our lives forever…

“Maybe you should write a Kwanzaa movie?” she said as we passed a store-front display.    It worked.

“Me? A Kwanzaa movie?” I said with a smile.  Not many people are as white as I am.  In fact, once someone jokingly asked me my street name and I literally gave them my home address.

“Yeah,” she continued. “You can call it Kwanzaa Klaus.”

By the time we finished our walk, I had the whole story outlined.  Likewise, my spirit was lifted.  Later that week, I pitched the idea to a life-long friend who was working with Adam Sandler.

“I’d read it,” he said, so I wrote it.

Several weeks later, I had a finished copy, and I sent it to one of the assistants I met at William Morris.    He was kind enough to give me a few notes.  With that, I sat down, completed the first rewrite, and resubmitted it.

Things move slowly in Hollywood, so I moved on to writing a new project.   During that time, I approached my good friend, John “Rusty” Proctor.

“Hey, would you mind reading a script I wrote?”

“No problem,” he said with a smile.  Rusty always smiles.  He read the title out loud. “‘TWAS? What’s it about, Christmas?”

“No.  It’s about Kwanzaa,” I added.   And so began the awkward reactions I would received since.

“Cool, cool,” Rusty added.  Rusty always adds “Cool, cool” — and he put the script under his arm and walked off.

While writing the script, I researched the Festival of Kwanzaa and became in enamored with its teachings and traditions.  So, I asked Rusty to read it because I didn’t want to write a script that offended people — African-Americans, to be specific.

I have many friends of many races and backgrounds, however, Rusty was the only one of my friends that was both African-American and a fellow struggling screenwriter — like me; and I wanted to see if his background could provide any insight that might be helpful.

I didn’t expect an immediate response.  So, I was surprised when he called me the next day.

“Hey, I just finished reading your script.  I couldn’t put it down,” he said.

“So, what did you think,” I asked with the constant insecurity every artist possesses.

“It pissed me off,” he added.  I was shocked into silence, then Rusty added,  “I’m pissed off that I didn’t write this.  I never told you, but I celebrate Kwanzaa each year when I get to go back to D.C.”

This may sound trite, but a life-long friendship began at that moment.  And, if you ask my wife, I am not good at close relationships.

Rusty brought the script to a friend who was a producer.  Meetings followed, and so did the awkwardness every time I was introduced as the writer.

The script was optioned.  Life was both exciting and good — then came the Writer’s Strike and just like that … it all ended.

To make ends meet, I started to teach, and soon discovered another calling.  Life, as they said, went on.

As my boys grew, I started putting them to bed by telling stories.  One night, I dusted off Kwanzaa Klaus and began reading it at night, minus the “INTeriors, EXTeriors and CUT TOs.”

Finally, I formatted the story as a book and published it.  My good friend Rusty wrote the Forward.

For me, Kwanzaa holds a special place in my life.

Kwanzaa drew me from darkness.  Kwanzaa saved my marriage.  Kwanzaa gave me a friend like no other. Kwanzaa drew me closer to my boys.

With that, for me, Kwanzaa means Light; Kwanzaa means Love;  Kwanzaa means Friendship;  Kwanzaa means Family.

All of these are the first fruits of life, are they not?

Because of all these things, every year, my family celebrates Kwanzaa.

We may not light a Kinara.  (However, my nine-year-old just took a book about Kwanzaa from the school library, so maybe we may start.) We do, though, celebrate the seven core principles of Kwanzaa in our hearts; the principles of Unity, Responsibility, Cooperation, Family, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

But, don’t we all?

Recently, I received a phone call from someone who was familiar with the project when it was still just a screenplay.

“We’d like to turn Kwanzaa Klaus into an audio-book and try to drum up interest in the screenplay again.  Can you think of anyone we should ask to narrate it.”

I could only think of one name … John “Rusty” Proctor.

In the end, Kwanzaa means Hope.

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Heri za Kwanzaa.

K Klaus audio cover

James Henry is the author of Corporation YOU: A Business Plan for the Soul, Kwanzaa Klaus, Hail Mary series, and two children’s books: The Second Prince and Klaus: The Gift-giver to ALL!  As a writer, James has been widely featured on Bob Salter (CBS Radio), Mike Siegel, Mancow, and more. Beyond writing, James worked with At-Risk youth in Southern California for over six years.  His contributions to the classroom where featured on local television and in the LA Daily News and Burbank Leader, and earned him the honors of “Teacher of the Year”.  James was also twice honored by a CASDA Scholar, as the teacher who most influenced their academic career.  He has also appeared twice, as an educator, on “America Live with Megyn Kelly”.

Today, James lives in New York where he continues to teach — and write.

To contact James or book an interview, please contact Mark of Goldman/McCormick PR at (516) 639-0988 or Mark@goldmanmccormick.com.

 

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