Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page received the Ujamaa Place Leadership Award during a breakfast fundraiser Oct. 8 at St. Paul Holiday Inn.
But the day was not just about Page. JD Steele and his brother, Fred Steele, challenged the audience with the Teddy Pendergrass lyrics, “Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed.” Ujamaa Place participants stood at the mic harmonizing background on the vocals.
The enormous fine dining area was filled with highly esteemed community leaders, elected, and appointed officials such as, community leader Mary Boyd, police chiefs Tom Smith, John Harrington, Blair Anderson, and Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom. Ujamaa Place executive director, Otis Zanders, spearheaded the agenda. But the coolest attendees consisted of about 20 or Ujamaa Place participants and graduates. The spirit was that of love, restoration, and reconciliation.
The Rev. David Van Dyke introduced keynote speaker “President Obama’s Pastor-in-Chief” Joshua DuBois, who spearheaded the White House’s work on responsible fatherhood, community partnerships and religion in foreign affairs.
DuBois unraveled what he called “the Unprocessed History of Blacks in USA”, taking us back in time on a historic journey. Not to separate people but to connect stories, he emphasized. It was a “study to the test” crash course, stressing the necessity of difficult and uncomfortable conversations in order to connect our stories.
He pointed out that since the dawn of time, peoples of Africa consisted of powerful independent cultures and civilizations. But the cataclysmic nightmare started in 1619 when a Dutch ship arrived in the Carolinas with live human cargo from Africa – the beginning of chattel slavery in America. The Civil War supposedly ended slavery in 1865, but America’s Black codes, Jim Crow laws, only reshaped the mutated racist inhumanities. Even worse, the 1880 KKK’s reign of terror enacted deadly violence against women, children and families – estimated at 4,000 lynchings – with no protection from law enforcement, or the courts.
“But you say that was way down South, and way back then,” said DuBois.
He proceeded to connect the “way back then” South to here and now Minnesota up north.
In 1920, Minnesotans prohibited Ford Motors from hiring Blacks. In 1920, Duluth citizens publicly lynched three Black males. In 1952, Black Honeywell employees were prohibited from buying property in St Louis Park. Around that time Blacks were allowed to work in stockyards of South St. Paul, but residents prohibited Blacks from residing there. Not to mention there are currently 51 active Minnesota KKK chapters.
DuBois concluded that the American Dream worked for some, but for people of color it did not. He closed emphasizing addressing unprocessed history as a necessary step towards healing. The audience responded with a thunderous standing ovation.
Harington’s summary highlighted that Ujamaa Place has about 72 participants per month, and some 92 percent find employment. To date about 33 percent now live independently in Ujamaa Place subsidized housing. Most astonishing is that less than one percent return to prison.
My take is that the African-American male must face, endure and defeat stockpiles of nearly unbeatable odds just to break even. Ujamaa Place is the most effective model in addressing cataclysmic disasters confronted by Black males today. Ujamaa Place, a network of men, women, whites, Blacks, Asians, and Native-Americans with no equal in bringing men from the brink of the criminal justice abyss to a state of bread winning, tax-paying fatherhood.
To me, their work is sacred.