Reflections on Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility

When it comes to discussing collective work and responsibility, I usually end up on the other side of most conversations which seem to start with, “The reason Black folks can’t get ahead is…” or “We’re just like crabs in a barrel…” While these conversations have their place, I think we have been conditioned to overlook the collective work that we take part in daily. While there are many issues that face our community, many of use continue to struggle and fight but don’t receive the acknowledgment that is deserved.

In my Black Studies class I often ask if Black folks are working to change their situation. I usually get an overwhelming chorus of “no’s” and “Not the people I know.” This is usually followed up by a discussion of how many folks from their neighborhoods “aren’t trying to do anything with their lives” and “stay on the block all day.”* After I let students air out these concerns, which have some legitimacy, I begin to ask them if they’ve volunteered, helped out another local community member, or participated in any actions that have helped uplift Black people. Within a few moments most of them identify that they have. I then point out, in our communities there are always more people working for uplift of our people than we acknowledge.

This year I’m thinking of Ujima in a different way. The big issue for me this year is that that we affirm those that “do the work” too little. I know many warriors who have tirelessly been working for our community with little affirmation. An elder once told me, “You should affirm someone three times as much as you correct them.” I want to help begin to break that cycle. There are countless conversations that I’ve been a part of where people downplay or diss the work of others in the community because they do not like the people or the organizations behind it. I don’t have to agree with every approach to recognize that it has its benefits for the community. When it comes to our communities collective work and responsibility I’m making a commitment to affirm our foot soldiers for their work. Though our community does not look like we wish it would, without their efforts I can only imagine the chaos our communities would truly be in!

To the community warriors, families, and individuals I thank you!

Sorry this picture of Eddie Murphy clapping is hilarious to me!

*I could break down this whole argument about not acknowledging the work of everyday Blackfolks, regardless of what one thinks they observe, but that is a whole other post, well book really. In fact, if you want to start to think outside of the box, check out my advisor Alford Young’s book ‘The Minds of Marginalized Black Men.’

Filed under: Activism, Celebration, Food for Thought

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