The Joy of Community Amongst Oppression

By Larissa Check
Elm Staff Writer

On Saturday March 5, I attended one of the most momentous events of my life. The Joy of Community event, sponsored by The African American Heritage Council, Inc. and the Prince Theatre Foundation of Chestertown, was an event on the celebration of the “one year anniversary of the first Reconciliation Celebration” experience in the spirit of a joyful community.

This year, the event was held on the Washington College campus, in the Decker Theatre of Daniel Z. Gibson’s Center for the Arts. As I walked into the event, I was greeted by student ushers who handed me a pebble, and as I ventured towards my seat, I took notice of the diversity of those in attendance. It seemed I had just stepped into a world where everyone had come together for a common cause: either to cast away the burden of a history of oppression, or of having taken part in the oppressing of another being. But all were there at that very moment to let go of the past and work towards a more integrated and inclusive community.

The event began with a welcome that presented the history and reason for the celebration. The speakers acknowledged that “reconciling years of oppression cannot be taken care of in an hour event,” but it was imperative to acknowledge the truth of a very painful past, and strive towards the joy of a diverse, respectful, and collaborative community.

The speakers, then introduced the philosophy of “Ubuntu,” meaning the ability to forgive the oppressor. A direct translation from the Shona-Zimbabwean language, Ubuntu simply means, “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Nelson Mandela explains Ubuntu as “the essence of being human-that you cannot exist as a human being in isolation.” A person with Ubuntu as he further explains is “accepting of others, and does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

The ability to achieve Ubuntu in Chestertown will prepare the path for many new beginnings and construct progress through commitment and community hard work.
The speakers then introduced the symbolic gesture of casting away the burden that prevents the community from achieving this sense of togetherness. We were asked to cast away those tiny pebbles that carried the burden of frustration at society, for the time has come for us to enter a world of post-racial and post-racist America
.
An opportunity to cast away a time when black people were an unwanted overspill of a business idea that used to work well for America’s large scale agricultural system. To cast away a time when “free” African Americans received little to no support from a society that not only set standards for their success, but even where they could sit. That, although this past time still has left the residues of racism that still manifests in today’s society, we must deviate from sitting back and blaming society but rather strive to create a community with a sustained commitment to the growth of everyone in it. The time is now to instill these positive ideas into our children in order to build a stronger, accepting, and more self-conscious community.

At that point, I cast away my pebble into a transparent jar. The transparency allowed the participants to view how collectively these pebbles carried a heavy burden on the community. I honestly want to thank the community for allowing this event to happen and creating an example for change that other communities can follow because someday, we all will be the ancestors to another, and if we do not begin to instill the changes we want to see in the future now, then these changes just may never happen.

March 25, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 19

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