Kwanzaa Reflection IV: Ujima-Collective Work and Responsibility

With God’s help I will build and maintain our own community and make my brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and solve them together.

With the third night of Kwanzaa, Ujima which means collective work and responsibility, represented by the first green candle (green for the land), again, I have moved into the realm of self-explanation when it comes to addressing some of the issues that are addressed in the last two recitations for Kwanzaa.  We need to be aware that by in large, many of us are not aware of what it means to be a part of a community.  I think Karenga was insightful enough to be aware of what we needed to keep our community in tact.  Perhaps Karenga was able to foresee that in some respects that after the Black Power movement was over that we maybe would have to address our communal issues differently.

That is to say, as the black community transitioned out of the the modern Civil Rights era, I believe we were forced into an identity crisis mode.  No longer were we a people defined by an external struggle for civil and human rights, but now we were recognized by the dominant culture differently than before.  What resulted was that many of our venerated institutions such as banks, education and most certainly the Black Church that were birthed because of segregation were now abandoned because blacks now were forcing open the flood gates of integration.  As a result, what was the “black community” began to change.

When in the early 70’s when there was the viable emergence of what was recognized as the black middle class, we began to see the economic disparities occur within the black race.  Not to mention, the actual physical community began to change as we saw blacks begin to move out of the inner city and begin to move to the suburbs.  What we have now is suburban places such as DeKalb County with metropolitan Atlanta, Prince Georges County outside of Washington, D.C. and places like Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles where blacks make up near super-majorities of certain areas–and most are well-to-do and are often times solidly-middle class to the actual wealthy.  And the lower-class blacks were initially left to suffer in the depressing urban centers going into the 1980s.

By the start of the 1990s when we see major urban centers such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York embroiled with urban decay as we recognize it at its zenith (it wasn’t until 1991 that Chicago actually began a new ledger line of “drive-by shooting”), and it was quite clear that blacks were stuck in a cycle of poverty and violence that no one seemed to know what to do about.  Clearly there were two communities that existed of the same race–neither side wanted to make their brother’s and sister’s problem their problems and solve them together.

Instead, those that weren’t stuck in the cycle of violence and poverty remained passive on many issues and as a result, 20 years later, these blacks that had once moved to the suburbs are now moving back into the city–along with other whites.  Why because if you go into almost every major city in America now, vast tracts of land have been razed and now “mixed income” has been built.  Seriously, if one were to drive down by 39th and Cottage Grove here in Chicago, it would be unrecognizable.  Even in Vine City, I can drive down old Simpson Road and see the place where public housing once stood, but still remains vacant with just grass growing, still in the shadow of the Georgia Dome.  Even in smaller American cities like Nashville, where public housing once stood overshadowing Charlotte Pk., now stands highly colorful mixed income housing.

So where did all of these people go?  Because please believe people were living in these public housing projects.

Here in Chicago, all of them end up in the south suburbs like Dolton and Harvey and God-forbid places like Ford Heights and Robbens and places that don’t have the infrastructure to deal with an influx of people and let alone be able to address some of the societal issues that seem to follow some of these people.  Or in Atlanta, they all end up in Clayton County and of course, it’s a county that can’t even keep their public schools accredited.

What am I saying?  We as a people can’t afford to not be aware of community.  I invoke the idea of DuBois and the idea of the “talented tenth.”  There are those of us who can do better, and we have a moral responsibility to DO better.  We can’t afford to fall asleep at wheel.  When people’s lives are at stake, and those of us who have the resources to do better are not.  We fail to not just make our brother’s and sister’s our problems, but we fail to recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed in the first place!

We fail to recognize the problem of economic disparity.  When we turn a blind eye to the vast economic disparity of the people that live on Main Street (which is where the black middle class is trying to claim their address) versus those that live on the Martin Luther King Streets of various cities and towns, we’re failing to recognize the problem.  When we still act as though health care is a privilege and not a right, we’re failing to recognize the problem.  When the black middle class believes that others need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and remain oblivious to other societal barriers, we’re failing to recognize the problem.  So of course if we fail to recognize a problem, how can we help out our brothers and sisters.

And if that’s not bad enough, we don’t even recognize the persons we see standing on bus corners in the inclement we weather as our brothers and sisters as we drive by with our luxury cars with heated seats and heated side mirrors.  Yes, I’ll admit it’s hard to identify with a young brother who grew up in Roseland and had to attend Fenger High School and I grew up in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood and went to school on the North Side of the city, but whenever we fail to empathize with each other, we’ve already lost the battle.

We’ve GOT to self-identify with each other.  We MUST see ourselves in the persons we pass on the street daily, in order to change the world, let alone change our community, we have to be the change we seek (thanks Gandhi).  Once we can see ourselves in them, how can we not help our self?  If you can’t help yourself, then indeed, you are one lost individual.

How often do you see yourself in the people that you may walk or drive by on the street?  How easily do you identify with others enough to help them?  Do your personal problems outweigh those of the community concerns? Or vice-versa.  What are your general thoughts about Ujima?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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