Sunday, December 26, marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration in which each day, families and communities focus on a different principle at the root of African culture.
On the first day, the focus is on umoja, or unity of family, community, nation and race. Umoja inspires us to join together in solidarity and celebrate our oneness and pride in our African heritage. It speaks to the need to enlarge our circle and build our community.
The Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition offers a perfect example of umoja. Flatbush residents mobilized against the city’s plan to build a high-rise apartment building on a vacant lot. It was once a burial ground for Brooklynites of African descent.
Members of the coalition are a quilt of different careers--artists, historians, lawyers and activists--and ethnic backgrounds. What they share is a commitment to protect this sacred space in Brooklyn and to honor the ancestors with a memorial.
It’s no easy task to take on city hall. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. The lot at the corner of Bedford and Church Avenues has been vacant since 2015. One of the city’s selling points to the community was that the development would include affordable units. City officials also argued that only a few human remains were recently discovered at the site.
In an interview with BK Reader, coalition organizer Shantell Jones said, “We feel very strongly that there are still ancestors there. Even if it were to come out that there are no more bones there, we still feel as though this site shouldn’t be touched.”
The coalition poignantly named the site Eve’s Garden in honor of a slave named Eve who was buried there. An 1810 obituary of Eve noted that she loved flowers and gardening.
Umoja runs deep in this grassroots organization. BK Reader caught up with the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition in November for an update on their unified struggle to bring their vision to fruition. Here is a link to our latest report.
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!