I Am Because We Are…
A Story Worth Sharing
“Africans have a thing called Ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human… It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours.”
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Recently, as I was researching an idea on the web, I happened upon the story below. Mind you, I believe things happen for a reason, and this story seemed to be especially appropriate for this time and for this place. So, I’d like to share it with you:
An anthropologist was doing her research on a tribe in a remote African village. The research lasted a few weeks and the anthropologist got attached to the people, especially the young children of the tribe.
As the work was about to finish in a day or two, she decided to reward the children as her parting gift. She collected a bag of candies and goodies from her belongings and put it in a bag under the tree. She called the children and told them – “let’s play a game.” She drew a line about 100 meters from the tree and asked the children to line up. She explained to the children that it was a race and whoever ran the fastest would win the bag of candies from under the tree. She instructed them to start running as soon as she gave them the signal – “on your mark, get set, go…”.
The children waited for her signal and then something strange happened! To her surprise, instead of running for the candy, the children held hands and walked together towards the bag of candies! Once they reached the goal, they sat in a circle, distributed the candies evenly, and ate them while talking to each other. The anthropologist asked them – “Why didn’t you run? The person who ran fastest would have won the entire bag of candies.” A young girl looked up innocently and replied – “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” Although the anthropologist had been studying the Ubuntu African tribe for weeks, she really understood the culture and its essence from the behavior of these children. The children were practicing “Ubuntu.”
Roughly translated into English as “a person is a person through other persons”. But it is not just a word – it is a philosophy of humanism and a way of living. A person cannot exist in isolation. We are all interconnected. The philosophy of Ubuntu says – “I am because we are”.
Like many of you, post-COVID has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. I find Facebook too open, and email is cumbersome, so text messaging has become my family‘s communication of choice. Recently the loss of another black life filled the airways. My 28-year-old nephew wrote:
Better Choices must be made or the cycle just continues...
The family chat discussion was lengthy, but one quote resonated with me: ... “we as a people must take responsibility for the choices we make on our own, and the rest we handle as we always have, with grace and dignity.”
That is my hope for Peralta. That we break the cycle, and achieve the greatness that our students and our community deserve. I feel this can happen if we practice ubuntu. I can't and won't blame others for everything that doesn't go right... we must take responsibility for the choices we make, and make different ones in the future.
Someone asked me about people who work in Peralta. How are you going to deal with people that are loyal to a particular issue, or who support a certain cause, or who are loyal to a person or organization… how will you handle that? As an educational leader I feel loyalty should not be to a person or to any variance that furthers your own personal interests; it should be for the greater good, for our students, our future …ubuntu.
What guides my decision making? For me, the litmus test: “Is it in the best interest of our students?” Unfortunately, many times we listen to the loudest voices, or those with social capital and power, what is proffered may or may not be in the best long term strategic interest of students. Wading through the morass of vested interests, political maneuvering, public humiliation for doing what’s right, and endless questioning of one’s ethics and moral character are almost a rite of passage for senior leaders. The institutional climate has to change...no easy task, but it can be done. I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen it done in Peralta, and I truly believe it can be done again.
The recipe: “ubuntu” we all win when we work together.
I'm excited to be working with all of you to serve the students here at the Peralta Community College District. And I'm particularly excited about the opportunity we have to unite and together change our culture for the better, starting with a wonderful day of professional development on Thursday, August 19. My gratitude to Dr. Inger Stark, the Staff Development Officer, for assembling another excellent District Flex Day program. You can find the preliminary program here. Stay tuned for additional updates from Inger as we get closer to Flex Day.
Jannett N Jackson, PhD