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Ujima Means 'Collective Work and Responsibility': The Neighbors of the Dangler Mansion

Ujima honors a commitment to active and informed togetherness on matters of common interest.
Kenneth Lewis, the president of the block association championing the fight to preserve the mansion at 441 Willoughby Avenue, speaking to the group of neighbors, electeds and representatives from the religious organization that owns the building. Photo: Miranda Levingston for BK Reader.

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, people across the African Diaspora celebrate 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. When Ujima is activated, communities work toward a common good and share each other's burdens. They recognize that real progress is impossible without a unified effort. Ujima also acknowledges that people are collectively responsible for the community's setbacks and challenges.

The Brooklyn group that exemplifies Ujima is the block association that rallied around the 120-year-old Dangler Mansion at 441 Willoughby Ave. in Bed-Stuy. Neighbors shared resources and spread information to tirelessly advocate for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the mansion's historical, architectural and cultural significance. With landmark status, the historic building would have been protected from demolition.

Though the building was knocked down, the advocacy of the group continues. Now, with support from council members, assembly members, state senators and even famous actors, the group is advocating for transparency from the LPC, for the developer of the site to be held accountable and for broader input from neighbors on new developments.

Today, let's think of ways to build collective work and responsibility for one another!

In December 2021, BK Reader reported on the neighbors of 441 Willoughby Ave. Here is the link to the story.

Beginning on Sunday, Dec. 26, and for the seven days of Kwanzaa, BK Reader will feature a different local resident or organization that exemplifies one of the seven principles!