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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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Umoja: The Power and Practice of Unity

By Dr. Gloria Latimore-Peace

Presented by Omni-University

"Once upon a time

we had our land, our

culture, and our minds.

Surely we had tribes,

we all lived right there In Africa,

Things began to change

There were forces that divided us,

Spread throughout the world

we seem unsure about our heritage…"

"Umoja is the message

Got to get the message

The message to my Brothers and Sisters …"

The foregoing lyrics were taken from The "Seven Principles" Album which was composed, arranged, and performed by Kwame Steve Cobb and his wife, Chavunduka, et al.[1]

"Umoja," a Swahili word meaning "unity," is the first Principle of the "Nguzo Saba," the "Black Value System" conceptualized by, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, founder of the "Kwanzaa" Celebration.[2]

Although these "Seven Principles" are primarily observed during the season of "Kwanzaa," which is celebrated by many African-Americans, the adoption of these principles into our daily lives remains to be demonstrated.

Principles matter for the same reason that Unity matters. Just as there can be no commUnity without principles, i.e., values, there can be no commUnity without Unity. Unity is the foundational Principle. In the absence of Unity, the other Principles are reduced to "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal[s]."[3] The practice of Unity must not only be a Principle, it must be a priority.

This H30/ Art of Life Blog grew out of exchanges during a Family Prayer Meeting. Our discussion became centered around the continuing concerns about conditions in the Black community and what could be done to quell the epidemic of violence that continues to besiege the areas where we live which- coincidentally?- just happen to be the locations of far too many crime scenes.

With all respect due to Black people, I am reluctant to use the term "community" in reference to the real estate on which we live because my understanding of this concept goes beyond its superficial definition as "a group of related neighborhoods." This implies that a "community" can be constituted of people who have no more in common than that the individuals or families live in close proximity to each other. You don't have to be a Black person who resides in a majority White community to know that this is not the case.

The sociological definition of community as " a group of people who share values," is more precise because it accurately depicts the nature of a community. Even so, there is an even more compelling reason for debating the use of "community," as it applies to Black people.

In the classic book by Useni Eugene Perkins, "Home Is Dirty Street: The Social Oppression of Black Children," he coined the term "ghettcolony." By combining the terms "ghetto" and "colony" to the area(s) where Black and poor people reside- which have variously been called "ghetto /"inner city"/slums" etc., Useni has told Us not only like it is but where we live.

A quick reflection on our introduction- in our social studies classes- to the "13 colonies"-- whose residents waged a war for Independence from the tyranny of external control provides an apt description of the nature of a "colony." It also makes it clear that a colony is a very undesirable place to live.

Undoubtedly, Unity played a major role in the liberation of the 13 colonies from British rule. The fact that the 13 colonies eventually became what is now known as the (50) United States of America is testimony not only to the power of Unity but to the efficacy of "CommUnity Control."

Thus, it behooves us to learn the lessons of history, i.e., that: (1) There is no CommUnity without Unity;(2) Unity and Power go hand in hand; (3) Without Unity and Power, there is no Self-determination (Kujichagulia); (5)Without Self-determination there can be no CommUnity Control of the Community. (6) Without CommUnity control of the areas in which our people live, significant improvements in the living conditions, and overall quality of life, are not only unlikely, they are unthinkable.

The lyrics of " Umoja" remind us that "Things began to change, there were forces that divided us." Knowing that "a house divided against itself shall not stand" [3] should serve as sufficient impetus for Us to get ourselves together. The question raised by Ancestor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 55 years ago, is calling for an answer," Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?".

These lines from the lyrics of "Umoja" followed by an excerpt from the lyrics of the song "I Need You to Survive," by Hezekiah Walker, bring home the final point:


"For a long, long time

we've been deceived by the illusion

Called by different names

and this has served to just confuse us

When all is said and done

to be One's our revolution

We never stand alone

' Cause Unity's our resolution,...

Umoja is the message

A call for Unity…"

"I Need You to Survive"

"I need you,

You need me,

We're all a part of

God's body.

Stand with me

Agree with me

We're all a part of God's body

It is His Will that every need be supplied

You are important to me

I need you to survive…"

Recommended Viewing


[1] The 7 Principles are Unity,

Self- Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics,

Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

[2] The African- American celebration of Kwanzaa, December 26- January 1, was authored and introduced by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga in 1966

[3] 1Corinthians 13:1 KJV

[4] Matthew 12:25 KJV.

Recommended Reading

Ancestor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?"

Ancestor Chinua Achebe, "Things Fall Apart."

Recommended Listening

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