(This article is part of a series exploring and applying the seven principles of Kwanzaa.)
The third day of Kwanzaa is a celebration of the principle Ujima (oo–GEE–mah). Ujima means Collective Work and Responsibility. To work together to build and maintain our community and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
This principle reminds me of a lesson taught throughout the Bible: We are called to be our brother’s and our sister’s and our neighbor’s keeper. The core practice of Ujima is the understanding that “I am because we are, and because we are, I am.” We exist, we achieve, and we flourish because of the support of others. This is the principle which made possible the Underground Railroad, the Black Baseball Leagues, the formation of black-owned businesses, and the support of historically black colleges and universities.
Why Supporting Others is Actually a Winning Strategy I Love
I founded One Degree Shift on the premise that we learn and grow and make a difference best in community because we rely on each other. As change agents, healers, and teachers, we have the mutual responsibility to support each other’s aspirations and life’s goals. Giving and supporting others is natural; we are wired for it like breathing. When we practice Ujima there is a mutual benefit. Both parties win and the world wins too! Uplifting others brings happiness, meaning, and success to your life. Cooperation creates community and brings real joy. There is a high cost to pay when we become too interested in our own affairs and ignore the needs of others.
We rise by lifting others. — Robert Ingersoll
One blogger wrote, “Living outside of the mutual responsibility principle is the cause of much of the crisis in our world (economic, environmental, political, social, spiritual).” Would you agree? The author continues with this thoughtful analogy.
“Imagine what would happen in your body if the cells only cared for themselves and not the body as a whole. Suppose one of your cells decides that it no longer wants to adhere to the rules of its design. It decides that it wants to create its own shape and replicate itself without regard for how this choice will affect the body as a whole. When this happens in the body, we call it cancer and unless it is stopped it will eliminate itself and the body. This is what happens when we live outside the principle of mutual responsibility… as a collective we become cancer to ourselves and our environment.”
Read more on his perspective here.
Why Honoring Your Awesome Community Leads to Greater Success
On Ujima Day, we count the blessings of support we have received from family and friends, including those in our One Degree Shift community. We all need each other. The strength of our community (our families and our world) is in the quality of our relationships.
So today, on Ujima Day, let’s remember those who guard and guide us on our path — parents, grandparents, other loved ones, and those that have passed on. We also remember those in our One Degree Shift community who practiced the Ujima principle this year.
I’m reminded of the poem, We Speak Your Names by Pearl Cleage.
Because we are free women,
born of free women,
who are born of free women,
back as far as time begins,
we celebrate your freedom.
Because we are wise women,
born of wise women,
who are born of wise women,
we celebrate your wisdom.
My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your
We are here because we are your daughters
as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us,
carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out
into the world to make our mark
and see what we see, and be what we be, but better,
because of the shining example of your own
We are here to speak your names
because we have enough sense to know
that we did not spring full blown from the
forehead of Zeus,
or arrive on the scene like Topsy, our sister once
removed, who somehow just growed.
We know that we are walking in footprints made
deep by the confident strides
of women who parted the air before them like the
forces of nature that you are.
Read full poem here.
Will you commit to practicing the Ujima principle in the new year? Honor those who practiced the Ujima principle in your life by raising their names in the comments below.
Take time to reflect on three fundamental questions to strengthen your self-determination.
Get more helpful ideas on how to practice the Kwanzaa principles this year.