Lansing resident organizes virtual Ujima celebration for third day of Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa
Muteeat Lawal (top right) shares her thoughts on Ujima as part of a virtual celebration of Kwanzaa hosted by Sharon Giles (top left).
By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (December 29, 2021) – Lansing resident Sharon Giles hosted a virtual event Tuesday night to celebrate the third day and principle of Kwanzaa — Ujima — which refers to collective work and responsbility.

Giles invited community members to the event, which focused on attendees’ efforts to build community in their respective spheres.

“It’s the 28th of December, the third night of Kwanzaa, and the principle is Ujima. Ujima spotlights community. It takes a community to keep a community,” Giles said to start the event.

Kwanzaa is a seven-day tradition that celebrates African-American culture. The word “Kwanzaa” is derived from a Swahili phrase that means “first fruits.” The holiday has its roots in harvest-related celebrations throughout Africa. The American holiday was started in the 1960s by activist Maulana Karenga to provide African-Americans a way to connect with and celebrate their African roots.

Giles invited special guests to share spoken word poems, share about their community activism, and share what Ujima means to them.

Cheryl Hunt-Brown said two poems throughout the evening. Muteeat Lawal shared her interpretation of what Ujima means and how it’s been displayed in history and today. Damita Miller-Shanklin spoke about being editor-in-chief of Ujima Magazine in Austin, Texas, and the work she does to highlight everyday heroes in her community. Artist Damon Reed shared information about his art projects, which focus on highlighting Black women and children that have gone missing in the Chicago area. Lansing resident Valerie McDaniels spoke about her history at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the child abuse she helped — and still helps — to combat. Melanie Jongsma, the creator of Lansing’s Common Ground program, spoke about the program’s goal to pair up individuals of different races and ethnicities to gain mutual understanding. Some other attendees also spoke about their involvement in community.

The hour-long Zoom event had 13 attendees.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Sharon told participants near the end of the event. “I’m emotional just hearing what’s going on by all of you. I include you in my prayers. I pray that you grow stronger in the gift that the Lord has allowed you to do. Stay on the path. Stay on the path. It’s going to get better. We’re phasing out 2021. 2022 — there’s going to be challenges, but encourage yourself.”

Cheryl Hunt-Brown closed out the evening with a poem, which included the words: “A community starts near and reaches all. United we stand, divided we fall. Intentional cooperating and living while communing in unity — this is my definition of a harmonious community.”

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