Ubuntu and the Celebration of Black History Month

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Celebrating Ubuntu and the contributions of the African diaspora to Humanistic & Transpersonal Psychologies

By Shanna Houser

 

Ubuntu throughout the world and at Sofia

While I am not aware of the history of Sofia’s Ubuntu room, I will assume that the name was selected to honor the African concept attributed to the Nguni languages of the Xhosa and Zulu cultures[1]. I have found that there are as many definitions for Ubuntu as there are for transpersonal psychology:

“I am; because of you.”[2]

Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We can’t fully be human alone…indeed my humanity is caught up in humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced, mine is enhanced as well. Likewise, when you are dehumanized, inexorably, I am dehumanized as well.”[3]

Nelson Mandela: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”[4]

I personally have always held an appreciation for the Ubuntu room as an intentional symbol of the contribution of the African diaspora to humanistic and transpersonal ideologies. I was unaware of the concept of Ubuntu prior to arriving at Sofia, and as I progressed in my studies at Sofia, I began to wonder about other contributions or philosophical parallels of the African diaspora (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) to which I and the Sofia community at-large, may be unaware. Or what do some of us know but have not had the opportunity to share? My hope is to (a) start a conversation, (b) share knowledge, (c) highlight the work of African and African American scholars in transpersonal psychology for the purpose of visibility, and (d) continue to build and celebrate the Sofia community in all of its diverse glory.

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The Reception area at the entrance of the school. Thank you Eric and Shanna for creating the art and displays.

IMG_4905Shanna, Kimberly Anne and Eric – Loving the camaraderie of fellowship.IMG_4908

What a joy to discover some of the works of our African American students at Sofia/ITP in the library!

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Origins of Black History Month

Harvard doctoral graduate Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) first conceptualized and orchestrated “Black History Week” in 1926. The first of the multi-faceted purposes of the event was to correct the fact that the history and contributions of black Americans were “misrepresented or missing altogether from the history books”[1]. Further, it was Woodson’s intention to highlight: (a) President Abraham Lincoln did not free southern slaves, rather, the Union Army and its thousands of black soldiers achieved this feat; (b) the “countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization”[2]; and in hopes that (c) Black History Week would set the stage for black history to be taught year-round. 50 years later, Black History Month was nationally recognized (the state of West Virginia and city of Chicago, for example, began celebrating Black History Month as early as the 1950’s and 60’s) as part of the United States’ Centennial Celebration[3]. According to the History Channel, Woodson’s contribution ensured that the legacy of black Americans would never be forgotten. Well, at least not for 28 days each year…and 29 days every Leap year.

90 years later, the United States continues to celebrate Black History Month as unrevised and expansive histories of people of color in the United States are continually obscured by cultural imperialism or oppression:

The universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture and its establishment as the norm….The experiences and interpretations of those who control societal institutions are endorsed and imposed onto all who rely on these institutions, whereas the experiences and interpretations of those who wield less control find little validation and expression in the broader society (p. 803) [4].

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