Last night was, as Marlene Frye, aka, “Queen,” noted, “a special time to pause and enjoy.”
Twin Cities Center staff were lucky enough to attend the Mid-Year Awards Celebration at Ujamaa Place last night. Ujamaa writing instructor, “Sister Queen,” as she is affectionately known, set the tone for celebration with a poem, a song and a call to “be in this moment and witness transformation.” Ujamaa serves African American men who are economically disadvantaged and have experienced repeated cycles of adversity. Voyageur Outward Bound School serves Ujamaa men with series of Insight and Expedition programs that build skills, self-awareness, confidence and resilience through adventure and challenge. Our partnership is grounded in a shared belief that President and CEO, Otis Zanders, articulated so well last night:
We know that the pursuit of adventure leads to transformation.
Ujamaa’s mission is rooted in a powerful philosophy of African American culture and empowerment:
everyone is important, valuable, worthy, and loveable.
During the Celebration, Kedar Hickman, Ujamaa’s COO, reminded all gathered that, “we are here to help black men make change that matters.” “Ujamaa” means “brotherhood,” “family” and more in Swahili. “Ujamaa” is an approach to life that says, “we are in this together.” Voyageur Outward Bound is grateful to be part of the Ujamaa family and humbled to join in work that impacts our community so directly, and so positively.
Last night, a cohort of Ujamaa men graduated from an intensive construction course. Theirs has been a rigorous and demanding journey. They attended hundreds of hours of night classes, working hard to acquire new skills and certifications, all while continuing to work hard by day to make a living and support families. These men are on a path to become “journeymen”: highly skilled craftsman who work hard in the trades, and strive to craft successful family lives. Their journey is a challenging expedition into the future and graduation speaker, Hafia Grey, Ujamaa’s Behavior Health Director, called on us to pause here, honor accomplishments, and live a Ujamaa mantra:
Tonight we stop to celebrate a step forward; here at Ujamaa we celebrate every step forward.
At Voyageur Outward Bound, we recognize the power of many small steps, the power of effort, the power of a “crew” working together toward shared goals. We also recognize the power of appreciation, and Jesse Brown, Course Director at Twin Cities Center, presented these hard working men with Outward Bound certificates of achievement. Jesse pointed out that their Outward Bound Insight and Expedition experiences dovetail with their construction and skills training in unique ways. Through group adventures like rock climbing, orienteering and paddling, Ujamaa men work together to meet challenges as a team– as brothers, they recognize and leverage individual strengths. These adventures are opportunities to build community, trust and confidence. And the men bear witness to the accomplishments of their peers. As guest speaker Sam Hiemlich of Carpenters Local 322 said, “I see you. I see who you are becoming.” One graduate noted:
I’m afraid of heights. Rock climbing is scary. But I did it. And I’ll do it again. I can get up there on a construction site. I can conquer that fear.
Looking around at his fellow journeymen, he added
And these guys–my brothers–they see, they know, I can do it.
Perhaps Celebration MC, Nathan Delgado, Ujamaa Coach and Housing Specialist, said it best:
We are preparing your son, your husband, fiance, brother, uncle, cousin or nephew for greatness…as others have said, this is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We work hard for them, but nobody works as hard as the men of Ujamaa.
Congratulations to the men of Ujamaa! Together, we celebrate every step forward!
Our work with partners like Ujamaa Place, is made possible in part through the support of foundations. We thank the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust, RBC Foundation and H.B. Fuller Company Foundation for their generosity and investment in our communities.