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Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear

Mutual Aid in the Era of Trumpism: Recapturing the Spirit of Mutual Aid!

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.”  Bondei Proverb

The third principle of the Nguzo Saba (7 Principles of Blackness) is Ujima (oo-JEE-mah)—  Collective Work & Responsibility—“To build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.” Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” In the near future, the poor in America will face the gravest threat to federal safety nets in decades. We will for sure see major cuts in social programs (i.e. rental vouchers, job training, Pell grants, Head Start and, of course, the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care)). These budget cuts are called “sequestration,” a fancy word that refers to automatic spending cuts to the federal budget. The conservatives/Republicans have telegraphed what they intend to do. The question before us in the spirt of Ujima is, “are we planning to respond to this new (or not so new) world order?”  

African people have traditionally, and culturally speaking, depended on one another. Mutual assistance and self-help have been cornerstones of the African-American community for generations. In the United States, Blacks formed Mutual Aid Societies after the Civil War. Immediately after the war, Blacks organized themselves (or were organized) into intentional communities and communes where they could live and develop under their own leadership, creating their own economy. The earliest mutual assistance members among free Blacks provided forms of health care, life insurance, job training, promotion of education, and burials for the dead. Some of the earliest include: Free African Union Society, Newport, RI (1780’s); Free African Society, Boston (1787); Free Dark Men of Color, Charleston (1791); New York African Society for Mutual Aid (1808); African American Female Literary Association, Philadelphia (1831).

Ironically, in modern society with the advent of worker’s compensation, employer sponsored health benefits, and generous welfare programs, people began to depend less and less on these mutual aid structures and more on government sanctioned aid. Some would argue we have become too dependent on government assistance. Even our local governments are talking about ending aid to social service organizations over the next three years.  It will force us to think and rethink this principle of collective work and responsibilities. 

As we prepare ourselves to embrace the harsh realities of a Trump Presidency, you can bet your bottom dollar we will see major cuts in social programs for the poor. Thus, we need to look long and hard at Ujima. We may need to reorganize some of our nonprofits to address certain needs in the community. In other cases, maybe we should develop black nonprofit cooperatives. Instead of three different nonprofits paying rent, insurance, staffing and utilities in three separate locations, the 3 Ujima-minded black, nonprofit leaders could find one location and split the costs. More of your “mom and pop” nonprofits need to consider consolidating. Everything for sharing data, to sharing office space, to sharing personnel, must be considered in an era where we will see less and less “aid” coming from the federal government for social programs that help the most in need. We are living in a time now where instead of 10 independent organizations applying for the same grant (9 will be sure not to get it), maybe 3 or 4 of them apply as a “collaborative” and share the funds and work collectively to ensure impact and outcomes.  Collaboration is not easy, but it is necessary to achieve collective impact and keep the funders happy. Yes, it has come to that. Like sticks in a bundle, we must stick and stay together to survive. Peace, Love, & Power! 


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