This blog is inspired by my attendance at the Ujima Program’s Black History Month Celebration on February 22nd. The Ujima Program is a program of Journey Mental Health Center that serves African American Families around issues of addiction. Part of their effort with their clients is to strengthen family bonds and enhance a sense of community. Toward that end, the Black History celebration included food, fun, fellowship and education. The staff of Ujima prepared a magnificent meal and staff and consumers showcased their talents in poetry, song and dance.
A highlight of the evening was the honoring of Madison African American “history makers.” That group included Fabu Phillips Mogaka, Madison’s first black poet laureate; Addrena Matthews Squires (“Super Gram”) who is still a prolific volunteer in her 80’s; Dr. Alex Gee, founder of the Nehemiah Leadership Development Corporation and Pastor of Fountain of Life Family Worship Center and Richard Scott, retired East High School Minority Affairs Coordinator, actor, playwright and founder of the Kojo Drill Team. These pioneers helped forge a place for African Americans from every walk of life in Madison and Dane County. The young people present gave respect and affection to these elders and that was heartening to see.
Being a part of this celebration of accomplishment, perseverance and faith was a blessing for me. It reminded me of the value that has sustained the African American people from their origins in Africa to their subsequent migration worldwide. It is a sense of community, the tie that binds us through good times and bad. Like our history, it provides us with a sense of identity. It reaches across age, gender and class. It also reaches across time to bind us to our ancestors and the yet unborn. When we break bread, sing songs and tell stories, we are engaging in a tradition as venerable as the Baobab tree. Milele Chikasa Anana, another honoree and editor of Umoja magazine, has described Madison as a village. It is indeed our village and we need, from time to time, to celebrate “how we got over.”