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Ujamaa: Brownsville Community Culinary Center

Cooperative economics helps Brownsville residents start and flourish in culinary careers.
Brownsville Community Culinary Center, BK Reader
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End-of-year festivities continue with the lighting of another candle on December 29 in recognition of the fourth day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day festival when people of African descent reflect on a different principle centered in traditional African culture.

Ujamaa, the Kiswahili word for cooperative economics, is the fourth principle of Kwanzaa. It’s a commitment to ensuring the economic well-being of everyone in the community through the practice of shared wealth. One way to achieve that principle is through supporting local Black-owned businesses that, in turn,  support the community. It stems from the traditional African concept of communal well-being.

Rodney Frazier manifests the spirit of cooperative economics as the executive chef behind Brownsville’s Collective Fare and chef educator at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center. Frazier, whose family hails from the African nation of Sierra Leone, has more than 25 years of experience working in restaurants and training future chefs, including inmates, in the food services industry.

Brownsville is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Brooklyn. According to  New York City data, 37% of Brownsville residents live below the federal poverty level, and the neighborhood suffers from 16% unemployment. Those shocking figures fuel Frazier’s mission to train residents for a career that can lift them out of poverty.

To that end, the culinary center launched a 10-month education program in 2017 to offer opportunities to receive professional training in the food industry, with the aim of enabling them to land jobs at top restaurants throughout the city.

Two years later, the program took a hiatus to rethink its business model. That was months before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the restaurant industry, forcing many to shutter their doors forever.

BK Reader spoke with Frazier and his team at the height of COVID-19 pandemic about the impact of the organization and its future. 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, Kujichagulia and Ujima.

About the Author: Nigel Roberts

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