As I sat in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre to view a Kwanzaa show several years ago I was again reignited to adopt a concept that had taken root in my life some years prior, the concept of Ujima (oo-JEE-mah). Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday established in 1966 created to celebrate their heritage. The term Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanzaa” meaning first fruits of the harvest. Ujima the third principle of Kwanzaa stands for “collective work and responsibility”: To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
A light bulb went off in my head that night as I sat and watched the play and my body began to tingle all over. Haven been a community advocate for several years, I knew that this concept would be the principle I would apply to every community based work I did from there on out.
When I decided to move back to Antigua, my country of birth, I became excited about the prospect of developing this concept. How can I push forward with this new found zest for community involvement? How could I brand myself, per say, with this concept of Ujima and apply it to every area of my work? Approaching each project with integrity was the first thing that came to mind. Being upright in my approach to helping the community was essential in that it produced clear results not muddied by hidden agendas and/or attention seeking. However, community, social , and human rights advocacy is work that is most effectual when done by more than one pair of hands, voices and bodies. My integrity alone will not get the job done; it takes yours, yours and yours.
In addition to our integrous work there is a need for ownership of the social ills within our community, region and the world. This is clearly defined by Ujima’s extended definition, “to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together”. Ownership introduces an added sense of personal importance to projects we work on. Added importance means added vigor to achieving results and/or establishing clear guidelines for the necessary results to be attained.
However, I believe there are additional steps in getting desired results within our community, especially in the area of youth development work. There is not only a need for us to work together individually as community advocates but there is a need for youth development organizations across genres to work together as collective bodies, becoming aware of each other’s goals, future objectives and creating a support network to help each organization achieve desired goals. This means a youth organization whose focus is job readiness can definitely work alongside a youth organization that focuses on gender development. Forming these types of networks can strengthen youth advancement because the truth of the matter is persons and organizations involved in youth development work are a part of one body. Is it not better for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing?
The Caribbean is the perfect soil to plant these kinds of network seeds. Countries are generally small enough to create sustainable cross genre networks (even between islands). Networks such as these would bring about appreciation for organizational work that differs from one’s focus area. It will build strong units that will be beneficial in advocacy, fundraising, and awareness work. Youth development workers let us closely follow this concept of Ujima and cease from working as disjointed members of the same body. I plan to push forward in this spirit, will you?
Claytine Nisbett is a community advocate with a special interest in gender and youth development. She holds a BA in Sociology and is Certified in Non-Profit Management. She has spent close to 15 years contributing to the Non-Profit field ranging from board member to secretary. She manages Ujima Solutions and all interested blog contributors can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org