Ujima means collective work and responsibility — the strength of a community is greater than its individual parts. And on the third day of Kwanzaa, celebrants reflect on how Ujima plays out in their lives.
“Was there Ujima in this room?” Hamilton Hill Arts Center Director Omoye Cooper asked during a Kwanzaa celebration at the center Monday night.
The crowd returned an enthusiastic affirmation.
“If we have problems in our community, we can’t blame anyone else but those of us who live in our neighborhoods,” Cooper said. “We need to work together and take responsibility for where we live and what our children are doing and not doing.”
More than 50 people from across the Capital Region — Kenneth B. Williams Jr. of Troy took more than two hours by bus to get there — crowded into the Hamilton Hill Arts Center in Schenectady for the Ujima celebration. They shared stories of loved ones passed, toasted to their memories and enjoyed music.
Kwanzaa is based on the seven principles of the Western Africa Diaspora: Umoja, unity; Kujichagulia, self determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith. Each night’s activities center on those themes.
“They are not only the building blocks for our community, they also stand to reinforce and enhance it,” said Jessica Hunter as she explained the history and meaning of the weeklong holiday, which culminates on New Year’s Day.
The Western African Drummers of Schenectady dazzled the crowd with a
growing beat and traditional songs, and the seven-piece band Crescente played Afro-music, sporting guitar, drums and brass instruments.
“Habari gani,” Miki Conn, an event organizer, called out at one point, asking, “What’s the news?” in traditional Swahili.
“Ujima,” the crowd responded.
“Habari gani.” “Ujima.” They went back and forth, the crowd gaining volume and momentum with each response.
“Tonight we are focusing on what we can do better for our community and for each other,” Conn said.
A pair of teenagers shared stories about family and the night’s theme. Tariq Adams, 17, talked about being the man of the house and serving as a role model to his sisters, showing them that hard work can pay off. Imara James, 16, talked about the influence that her great-grandfather, the first black psychiatrist in the Capital Region, had on her life and the broader community.
“Ujima to me means family comes first, take care of your family,” Adams said.
As the night wore on, spoken-word artists joined the festivities, giving unplanned and impromptu performances. Clifford Johnson of Schenectady performed a powerful poem about finding a boy dead in the streets — “I called his name, Junior, Junior, but little Junior couldn’t speak.”
“I feel that it is important for the community, for somebody, to stand up and help one another,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.