The Ujima Friends Peace Center (UFPC) is a worshipping Quaker community in North Philadelphia. It is a ministry of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent. Their mission is to support the spiritual nurture of Quakers of African descent and provide opportunities for the sharing of their concerns. They recently launched its Freedom Summer programming for 2021.
Ayesha Imani, the Clerk and President of the Board of UFPC shared with us the experience at the first Ujima Friends Summer 2021. We previously shared a story about the work of the Friendly Spaces project through Ujima Peace Center.
Read our conversation with Ayesha about the work that Ujima Peace Center continues to do:
Q. Many people know about Ujima Peace Center. Can you explain the relation between the Peace Center, Ujima Meeting, and Friendly Spaces? Who does each one of these serve? How might their different missions impact the local community?
Friendly Spaces is a program of Ujima Friends Peace Center and serves children, particularly from North and North Central Philadelphia. UFPC is an independent 501(c)3 that was born as a ministry of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent.
The ministry itself grew out of the Minute on State Sanctioned Violence and has continued as a worshipping community focusing on addressing various manifestations of violence with a focus on the North Philadelphia community. During the pandemic, the Ujima Friends Peace Center worshipped virtually and expanded its reach to other people of African Descent in various places across the nation and beyond. The Spirit moved amongst those gathering as a meeting without borders that transcended a particular ministry in any one location, and the Ujima Friends Meeting was born.
The Ujima Friends Meeting is a Quaker meeting without geographic borders that is shaped by the culture and spiritual traditions of People of African descent. It has established itself as an independent 501(c)3 that is a religious organization with its own officers. It presently does not have ministries that “serve” people.
It is a new Quaker Meeting that is in its infancy and is providing spiritual nurture for its members and a home for people of African descent seeking a Quaker experience that is culturally synchronistic. (Please see the Minute of Declaration for the Ujima Friends Meeting). Its Clerk is Regina Renee Ward, who has been active in Friends General Conference and Intermountain Yearly Meeting.
There is certainly some overlap between the two entities in terms of participants. There are some members of Ujima Friends Peace Center who are a part of the Ujima Friends Meeting, but certainly not all. The reverse is also true. The Friendly Spaces project is a project of the Ujima Friends Peace Center in Philadelphia.
Q. How did Friendly Spaces come about?
Friendly Spaces, like the Ujima Friends Peace Center, was simply a gift from the Holy Spirit and grew from seeking Divine guidance about how to heal the hurts that so many children endured as a result of the pandemic. Each summer since 2017, Ujima Friends Peace Center has run a summer Freedom School program as a part of its ministry to youth and families in North Philadelphia. Last summer in 2020, UFPC was unable to have an in-person Freedom School due to the pandemic.
The school year 2020-2021 had been all virtual for public school children in Philadelphia. During this time of virtual learning, many children suffered increases in anxiety, depression, and experienced various forms of abuse. This increase in mental health concerns was especially noticed among middle school children.
In worship, the Spirit revealed that there needed to be an opportunity for children to disconnect from their computers and be outside. For many years, I ran a 100% outdoor camp in Fernhill Park in Germantown and remembered how wonderful it could be to have young people outside.
UFPC did not have the space to safely accommodate children in its facility and had no land. Based on the guidance being given by scientists during the pandemic, the safest place for young people was outside. While Ujima Friend Peace Center does not have outdoor facilities, many Quaker institutions do. Since its inception, there have been Quaker meetings and various Friends who have given support to UFPC.
The idea that nature could provide healing for our children and that the social justice work that normally is done during Freedom Summer could be done outside with an emphasis on the environment seemed to make sense.
We listened to Spirit and trusted that the Divine would move in the heart of Friends. A number of Friends throughout Philadelphia Yearly Meeting responded with financial support so that we could afford daily busing to spaces that would be healing for our children, and others like Abington Friends Meeting and Historic Fairhill welcomed our children into their spaces.
Ujima Friends Peace Center Friendly Spaces 2021
This summer, Ujima Friends Peace Center launched a 100% outdoor event that was designed to allow the neighborhood children to explore “friendly spaces” while engaging in activities that would be good for the mind, body, and spirit.
All these children had been in the house for the past year and a half with virtual learning. As a result of the isolation of virtual learning, many of our students find themselves suffering from anxiety and depression. Our freedom summer program emphasized Africana social justice literacy curriculum, mental and emotional wellness, conflict transformation, and care for the environment.
WE were not sure what this would be like when the idea was first floated. Still, we knew we needed to help our children to disconnect from computer technology and have the opportunity to commune with nature and safely with one another. This was a Ujima freedom school experiment. Therefore, nothing prepared us for how wonderful and successful it would be!
The program consisted of about 26 middle school students called ESL – emerging servant leaders, four high school servant leaders, three college interns guided by two fantastic young educators and community activists. We secured a partnership with the Historic Fair Hill Burial Ground community and Abington Friends Meeting. We were given generous funding from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Central Philadelphia Monthly meeting, along with a single donor through Friends Fiduciary, as well as several other meetings. Once a week, we spent two days at Fair Hill Burial Grounds doing our Freedom School curriculum and participating in the urban gardening and environmental science projects. At Abington, we were able to do art, Yo-chi (yoga and tai chi), literacy, self-care, and swimming.
Once a week, we were hosted by various groups and organizations, many of whom were Quakers. Our young people enjoyed trips to Snipes Farms, Taylor Wildlife Preserves, the Goat Project, One Art Community Center, Up from Salem, and Salem Monthly Meeting. In addition, we traveled to the zoo courtesy of Councilman Isaiah Thomas, Long Beach, for a beach trip and hiked in the Wissahickon led and hosted by members of Ujima Friend Peace Center.
The highlight of the summer was to watch the children make their proposal for a social action project that would provide more green spaces for urban learners. It was also a pleasure to listen to them talk about their summer experience during our debrief. One ESL said that his anxiety and depression levels were way down, and his confidence was way up due to the program. All the ESLs said, Dr. Mama, we have to have this again!
We are so grateful for all those Friends who believed in this project and lent a hand. Special thanks to Mama Wanda, clerk of Abington Friends Meeting, and Mama Jean from Historic Fair Hill, Inc. I hope that this is just the beginning. We have so much to share, and our children need green spaces in their lives.
You can watch a video that highlights the experiences of the participants in Friendly Spaces 2021.