Ujima Friends: Part of Us

Addressing Racism, Faith & Practice, Pastoral Care Support, Peace & Social Concerns, PYM, Quaker Life Council, Religious Education, Resource Friends, Worship and Ministry

At a recent meeting, the Quaker Life Council considered and celebrated the expression of Quaker Faith & Practice that is our Ujima Friends Peace Center. In the year that it has existed, the center has forged profound connections with the community in which it is located in North Philadelphia. Friends at the center established a summer freedom school, teaching young people an adapted peace curriculum called the Mpatapo Curriculum, which synthesizes African principles and Quaker values. The Ujima Friends Peace Center community also offers tenants’ rights classes every Saturday at 11am and organizes a monthly food give away. The community meets for worship every Sunday, and many PYM Friends who are members at monthly meetings also count themselves as members of the Ujima Friends Peace Center. Learn more about the center at ujimafriends.org.

As stated on their website, the work of the Ujima Friends Peace Center is to reduce violence and provide a safe haven with educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for adults and young people. The [center] is a ministry of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent.

The word Ujima conveys the intention to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together. At its meeting held on Saturday, September 15, 2018, the Quaker Life Council honored this intention by recognizing that the Ujima Friends Peace Center is an imperative part of the wider body of PYM of Friends. The center’s ministry expresses a central message of Quakerism: with worship and spiritual practice at its core, it is possible for faith to reveal insights in unexpected and liberating ways that bring us closer to justice. Indeed, the emergence of the Ujima Friends Peace Center has tremendous historical significance. This is the first worshiping Quaker community conceived of and maintained entirely by Quakers of African descent. The center was envisioned first by the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent in their 2016 Minute Regarding State Sanctioned Violence. Read the full minute here. Some excerpts of the minute are included at the end of this story.

The Quaker Life Council approved the following minute of action:

“Friends around the table gave joyful and tearful spirit-led testimony to how Ujima Friends Peace Center in a short period of time has changed the neighborhood around the Peace Center, the lives of individual Friends,  and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Friends sensed the joyful presence of the Spirit being witnessed and fed at Ujima. QLC sensed Spirit calling members to support the programs and efforts of the Center. Supporting the Center is in alignment with PYM strategic directions. Members acknowledged that the Ujima Friends Peace Center arose from a 2016 minute from the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent.  The minute exemplified a minute of concern with clear action and designated resources committed to following it through. At the time, there was not a clear path for bringing a minute of concern to PYM.  

1.Friends APPROVED $10,000 to Ujima Friends Peace Center from its General Fund and $5,000 from the Strategic Reserve Fund.”

The Ujima Friends Peace Center has asked that we hold their ministry in the Light. They are happy to hear from friends through email or receive words of encouragement through the mail.

For those who are interested in donation, you can give through their website here or by mailing a check made out to Ujima Friends Peace Center at 1701 W. Lehigh Avenue, 19132.

Excerpts from the 2016 Minute on State Sanctioned Violence:

“We grieve the loss of any human life, including the lives of police. However, the presence of the police too often seems like an occupying force designed to protect and serve an invisible elite instead of protecting those who reside in our communities. We also recognize that the violence and tragic killing of innocent civilians have touched so many in our communities. We believe that these evil forces cannot be overcome through retribution and retaliation, and can only be overcome through respect, resources and love. Jesus taught us that the love of God and our neighbor is the greatest commandment.”

“In the absence of real opportunities for employment and economic self-sufficiency underground economies rise up in our communities to fill the gap. People in these economies are criminalized and prosecuted even though they are only seeking to provide enough resources to support their families. We realize that we cannot have a meaningful conversation about ending racial oppression without also addressing classism, joblessness and wealth inequality.”

“In response to these realities, we, as Quakers and as people of African descent call for the following:

…2. PEACE CENTERS. The development and support of “peace centers” in our communities which will provide safe havens and educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for young people in our communities. Quaker Alternatives to Violence trainings can be redesigned to be rooted in the cultural experience of African people. These centers will function as spaces where Quaker worship and values can be modelled and developed…”