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7 days of Holiday Blogging: Ujamaa

Hey y'all, hey. So, it's still Kwanzaa, & I'm still inviting guest bloggers to kick their feet up on my couch & share in the celebration of Kwanzaa through edutainment. So, I bring to you, this day, a friend & my Sistren of the Traveling Quills (just made that up seconds ago), Maisha Hyman Sumbry:

Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics

First of all, I gotta thank Ms. NdygoSunshyne for allowing me to contribute to her amazing blog. I am truly honored to have been allowed to force myself into the fray!

Alright – so on to the point of it all:


Since this is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, I trust that three times was a charm and you’ve got this Kwanzaa greeting thing down pat!


Yes, folks, it’s the fourth – and one of the most important days of Kwanzaa – Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics – a concept on which us black folk could definitely use a primer. We need a refresher course on what it means to take care of our own and support our own.

My family has always ridden hard for Kwanzaa – all year. As a wee Afro-wearing, lappa tied youngin’, Mommy used to take me to the black owned ice cream shop on Hamilton in Highland Park, Michigan – where I got my fix of double-dipped Superman on a sugar cone. And then she’d hop across the street to Varsity Cleaners, and pick up her freshly Martinized slacks that were “done in four hours or it’s free”. Our car mechanics looked like us. We ate at restaurants owned by people who looked like us (shout out to the Muslims at Aknartoons on Woodward and those banging barbequed beef ribs). Back then, there was no shortage of black-owned businesses that thrived in our communities. My life was surrounded by black folks who had their own and took care of their own.

Perhaps it was the genocidal cocktail of Reaganomics and crack in the early 80s, but suddenly, shit got real ill. Storefronts grew weeds, the paint peeled and the windows were soon either broken out or boarded up. Neighborhood services dwindled. Jheri curls began sprouting up. And it all became about the dollar. No longer was it important to buy black. It just became important to be able to find a place to buy SOMETHING. The fourth day of Kwanzaa admonition “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and businesses and profit from them together” began to ring hollow. There were no stores, shops and businesses in my neighborhood anymore. And in the tough economic climate of the 80s, everyone was trying to save a dollar. Heading out to West Jablip for an ice cream cone just didn’t seem sustainable.

However, as tides are sure to turn, we are in a different time now. Many of us are making more than our parents ever thought they’d earn. We’re also making much worse financial decisions with our resources. A rack of us can read, speak, and write so well – but are financially and economically ILLITERATE. Though we have black-owned institutions, we still continue to run them as if we don’t want them to be functional enough for us to pass down to our children. We don’t demand accountability for services, and we are loathe to accept constructive criticism about our sometimes shady business practices.

Not only do we gamble with our financial health – but with our physical health as well.

Warning for the sensitive:
It’s about to get real in the field right now so if you’re easily offended, log off.

I’m about tired of receiving the email from the family of the community elder about how s/he is suffering from an incurable disease and does not have health/life insurance or the funds to continue to have access to basic health care services and medication. What are we really doing with and to ourselves? Are we truly building a legacy when we leave the burden on the next generations to take care of us and rehabilitate our dying institutions?

My challenge on this day of Ujamaa is for us to start being really honest with ourselves and with our families – our children and our elders. If we don’t have our financial houses in order, they’re going to crumble around us.

Let’s sit down with our parents and ask them what their plans are if they get sick. What funds are available to access should they need long-term medical care? Let’s assess our own funds to figure out if we’re really in a position to care for them ourselves or if we need to make adjustments to ensure that our elders are comfortable in their sunset years.

Let’s ask ourselves how we can run our businesses better. Let’s understand that it’s okay to place a dollar value on our services! It’s okay to say “it costs money for my drum and dance group to come and perform at your event.” It’s okay to say, “Mama/Baba, I’m gonna need that tuition payment by the fifteenth of the month or you’re going to have to make some arrangements for your child.”

Let’s start being better with our resources so that we can leave something more for our children and their grandchildren.

In the spirit of Ujamaa – pull seven strong Harambees on that!

Well! There you have it. This IS a communal ill. We are not well versed in dollars & cents & the ways in which we ensure wealth for our future generations. Half of us (if not more) aren't making our bills now, living beyond our means. Understanding the value of our dollars, educating the children on that value & the WORK involved in securing them & making them work for us are NECESSARY lessons that MUST be taught sooner rather than later.

Thank you, Maisha, for your words today. You can check out more of her thoughts on "this & that from sneakers to hats" over at retiredsuperwoman.blogspot.com

Stay tuned for tomorrow's guest blogger contribution to Nia!! All about that purpose, Man, all about that purpose.

Watch me move.

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