On Tuesday, people across the African Diaspora are celebrating the third day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration highlighting a different principle bound in traditional African culture. 

Today, we reflect on the principle of collective work and responsibility, embodied in the Kiswahili word ujima. Individuals commit to working with other community members toward a common good. They recognize that real progress is impossible without a unified effort. Ujima also acknowledges that they are collectively responsible for the community’s setbacks and challenges.

The strength of collective effort brought Kofi Thomas’ vision for a Bushwick garden to fruition. 

In 2017, Thomas noticed a public garden in disrepair. He told BK Reader that a demolition company used the property as a dumping ground. Car parts were piled atop broken glass, and sheet metal lay on husks of trees. He described it as “a lasagna of trash and fallen trees.” It was an eyesore to most people, but Thomas envisioned a beautiful public garden that could nourish Bushwick residents and bring the community together. 

Thomas obtained permission for a cleanup effort. He enlisted the help of gardening friends and mentors, some from the nearby People’s Garden on Broadway. It took four months just to clear the debris. But their collective efforts paid off, and the Good Life Garden opened in April 2018. 

Ujima runs deep in the Bushwick community. A test of the Good Life Garden’s value to the community came a few years later when the COVID-19 pandemic floored New York City, especially low-income communities of color.

BK Reader spoke with Thomas in 2020 about his journey and what difference the Good Life Garden made in the community, at a time when an increasing number of his neighbors depended on others to help put food on their table. Here is a link to the story.

Beginning on Sunday, December 26, and for the next seven days of Kwanzaa, BK Reader will feature a different local resident or organization that exemplifies one of each of the seven principles! Go here to read about Umoja and Kujichagulia.

Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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