When I was younger, I didn’t like Ujima.

My parents were always telling me to be responsible. I hated responsibility. I just wanted to sit in the corner and get lost in my books. So what if my room wasn’t clean? There were Elves and dragons waiting.

Collective work was even worse.  It was hard enough doing things on my own, but why should I have to help my brothers?  And why would they want to help me?

I’m going to turn again to the dictionary.  (Bear with me, I am my mother’s daughter and she’s all about the dictionary.)

From Merriam Webster and my dictionary app:

re·spon·si·bil·i·ty noun \ri-ˌspän(t)-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē\
: the state of being the person who caused something to happen

: a duty or task that you are required or expected to do

: something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.

collective |kəˈlektiv|  adjective

done by people acting as a group: a collective protest.

• belonging or relating to all the members of a group: ministers who share collective responsibility | a collective sigh of relief from parents.

• taken as a whole; aggregate: the collective power of the workforce.

There was one year when my brothers and I were old enough to really understand what Kwanzaa was about.  I think I was in second or third grade.  My brothers surprised me with a three-story dollhouse they made of cardboard boxes.  It was red and white and had separate rooms and everything.

I was so impressed that they thought enough to assemble that house that I didn’t even care that it wasn’t the Barbie Dream House.  I remember feeling happy and appreciated.  What they made together was awesome.  It was then that I began to understand the definition of Ujima.

Now, I think about Ujima not only when I’m cleaning up at home.  It’s in my mind when I think about cleaning up the air and the ocean, when I think about effecting social change, when I make music and art – I really think about it all the time.

Every day is about collective work and responsibility.  Each of us does a small piece to make the whole better, whether it be in the home, in our neighborhood or globally.  As a grown-up, I get it.  And I teach it to my children now.

Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility