UBUNTU La Familia, The Village, The Tribe (Together as one we can make a better world).
In today’s world, people should consider each other as one with the goal of making this world a better place. Several terms used by JuanaBordas’in her book, Soul, Salsa and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, defines how people of several different cultures consider each other: “Kupia Kumi” - “we are one heart”, “Mitakuye oysain” - “we are all related”, “Huayucaltia” - “we are all brothers and kin”, “Umphakathi” - “we are all together on the inside”, and “Ubuntu” - “I am only a person becauseof other people.”
I would add “Umoja”, a Swahili word from East Africa, which means, “we are one.” The people that consider each other as a unified community are a great and successful people.
I grew up in a community where these expressions emphasized the main values of our society. The same values are applied in Latin American, Native American, some African American, and other cultures as well. Such values are incredibly important in America. There are many diverse cultures here, but unfortunately, these values are often not applied in daily social life. If more people in America would choose to embrace the values of community and unity throughout its social life and interactions, then society would improve for all.
We are all related. A society where people consider each other as relatives is a successful society. Native Americans see themselves as connected, as one community and as relatives. The more people that consider each other this way, the more interactions they can have without discrimination, racism or selfishness. The community I grew up in was also the same. I am a Mushi by tribe from the East part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. People call us “obuguma” or “Chinyabuguma” which means “people that fight together for one purpose.” No matter where you are coming from, even if we have never met before, as long as you are part of our community, you are considered a relative. This theory has made our traditional leadership strong, especially during times of war and outside invasion.
As described in Borda’s book, “…when we accept the concept of human family, then we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. A society that regards people as relatives would actively address the social and economic structures perpetuating inequities.”
Not only is a relative by blood or by marriage, as many Americans believe, but also a person with which you share the same values. Now that I have lived in America for a few years, I have observed that far too many people are selfish and self-centered even to those that are close to them. The “I” or “Umimi” in my language is what characterizes most of the Americans I have encountered.
We are individuals because of other people. Both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Dr. James Joseph describes the sense of kinship that exists among people in African American communities as the “cosmology of connectedness.” This is thought to be inherited from their African roots. The “cosmology of connectedness” reflects the traditional belief in Ubuntu which simply means “you are a person only because of other people.” Ubuntu manifests as people do well through kindness and compassion to one another and to the entire community. When people practice Ubuntu, they are recognizing the inner connection among people and acknowledging that their spirit and that of humanity are one.
Born and raised in Africa I experienced many “Ubuntu” and “Cinyabuguma” acts in our community. There, people do not care where you are coming from or to which tribe you belong. I remember a time we did not have enough food to eat and our neighbors would give us food. We would do the same when they needed food. It was easy to leave your children with your neighbor when needed, and your neighbor will take care of both your children and their own without thinking twice or expect pay back.
In our community, no one would let another suffer from hunger or lack a place to sleep. I remember one rainy day when I was six years old a random guy came to our door wet and cold. He needed food and a place to stay for a night until he could continue his journey the next day. My parents provided everything he needed. I was very scared and I could not sleep that night. The following day I saw him saying good-bye to my parents, and all three were laughing. I asked my dad why he allowed a stranger to sleep in our home. He answered,” He is not a stranger. He is your brother.” I never forgot that day and learned a lot from it.
Here in the U.S., I lived in an apartment in San Diego, California for over three years where I did not even know my neighbors. Sometimes I walked into my apartment corridor and no one said “hello” to me. When I tell my friends back in Africa about that, they think it is abnormal. I understand that this is the society I live in now which is different from my former one. At the same time, I know that this is not the way people should live, and it needs to be changed. This system is set up in a way that people fear each other, and the police is the middleman between people’s interaction. In America instead of discussing an issue as individuals or human beings, people prefer engaging police or laws instead of sorting things out as one, which creates more hatred and distance between people.
Dr. Lea Williams, author of Servants of the People describes how Ubuntu continues to advance African communities. “Our communities take care of one another. That has been our vision. It is what we must hold onto for our future well-being. Seeing each other as related or as family continues to be a fundamental characteristic of black leadership today and Africans in general.”
Dr. Joseph’s said, “Ubuntu, where people are supposed to act with humaneness, compassion, and care, is an example of how a private value can be reflected as a public value. The private aspect is how individuals act towards each other, and the public values are ensuring that the society is structured in such a way that people are cared for and treated humanely.”[a]
In such a community, leaders aspire to have a simple life so that others can simply live. People choose to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.
I have seen community leaders who chose to not live a luxurious life, but to serve their people instead. Andrew Young remembers a similar commitment from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when Martin and Coretta King lived in an old wooden framed house near Ebenezer Baptist church. There was nothing fashionable about his neighborhood. King fought for social justice and tried to make American society consider each other as one. This was the number one priority in his life. Likewise, Cesar Chavez, who grew up in the migrant camps of California, continued to live humbly throughout his life. Chavez never made more than $6,000 a year. The same applies to Nelson Mandela who continued to stick by his community, choosing a lower living standard and to fight together with his community for one cause. His cause was to reunify all South Africans, and today they are living the “Ubuntu life.” [b]
When leaders and communities are willing to live as one with no differences, they achieve more success. When I look at American society today, there is a huge divide between the community leaders and the community members themselves. You cannot really see the togetherness because the leaders do not appear to represent the community, and often consider themselves above the community. When people consider themselves above others, it is difficult to consider others as themselves.
The rise of the black vs. white disharmony in America has caused division, hatred, and racism that affect many people’s lives in many different ways. The issues of identity crisis and social classes that make some people feel more powerful than others have also created a lot of division. Today there are many slogans that are biased toward one particular group or another by proclaiming that they are also important or need to be considered. That’s why you hear “black lives matter”, “white lives matter”, “blue lives matter”, “refugees are welcome”, “we stand with refugees” and much more. Shouldn’t we always say “all lives matter” of course in "oneness" because no human should be superior to another, and if we treat each other as one no such slogan would ever exist?
Considering each other as one is a key to development and community prosperity.
If today’s generation had the sense of togetherness toward one another, this world would be on the foundation of peace and human understanding. To quote the late President John F. Kennedy, “We can make the world safe for diversity… We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s future and we are all mortal.” What unites us as humans is much stronger than what separates us. Like the sun that radiates warmth and light to all, the deep spiritual traditions of communities of color embrace the oneness, unity, and equality for all people. These traditions, in which people are seen as relatives, offer tried and true ways to create the world Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned in which all people had three meals a day, education, dignity, and freedom.