On January 12th, 2022, the University of Michigan’s GalleryDAAS held, “UJIMA”, a symposium to celebrate the holiday of renowned civil rights activist, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. The panel was led by Elizabeth Ann James, faculty advisor and alumni of the Black Student Union and current employee at the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. In addition, the event consisted of university alumni and current students, such as Solomon Lucy, Arielle Chen, and Justin Williams, who have made significant contributions to the UJIMA project. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s universal impact, the discussion centered on the importance of student activism and allyship. Together, students and faculty members alike reflected on their personal experiences concerning social justice and community activism and the lessons they took with them forward on.
UJIMA is a profound exhibit at the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies’ GalleryDAAS that showcases heritage, pride, and history through contemporary Afrocentric art. The name originates from Swahili, a Bantu language commonly spoken in East Africa, and the third principle of the Nguzo Saba. UJIMA began with the intention to help introduce and educate University of Michigan students to black history, as well as others who shared interest. The exhibit opened a day before the University of Michigan closed in-person activities and transitioned online for the coronavirus pandemic. Due to unexpected yet troubling circumstances, UJIMA had to convert the display for online viewing. What appeared as a setback transformed into a blessed opportunity that aligned with the DAAS’s greater mission to connect with the African diaspora. Technology allowed UJIMA to become more accessible to audiences, establishing global outreach and appreciation for black cultures. Currently, the UJIMA display can be found in the University of Michigan’s G648 Haven Hall and official website.
A foundation on which many activists and organizations stand upon is collectivism. Collectivism is the principle that the cohesiveness between members of a group should be valued and prioritized. The importance of collectivism in black thought stems from an ancient belief shared in many African cultures that every living being on earth is interconnected. Therefore, every human being has the responsibility to care and look after one another. After all, there is no one person who can run a society all alone. This thought process can be difficult to maintain and instill in daily practice in more individualist cultures such as the United States, but lionhearted people such as Dr. King Jr. have managed to manifest these age-old principles into reality during the most turbulent of times. Long after Dr. King’s death, generations of activists, scholars, and more have picked up where he left off to ensure the fight for justice and equality sees his dream through to the very end. Even Dr. King Jr, one of the most recognized humanitarians worldwide, had picked up the torch his own predecessors (Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, etc) left behind in the battle for civil rights and lit the way. One of the most valuable lessons the students of UJIMA learned along the way was that the most important thing about activism was that not everyone has to be a great leader or reinvent the world in the blink of an eye, but that taking one step at a time can make an incredible difference towards meaningful change.