, Port Arthur, Texas

December 28, 2013

Collective work and responsibility

African American Cultural Association celebrates third day of Kwanzaa

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — “Say it with me: ‘Habari gani,’” Johnny Hulin says, addressing an audience gathered at the Port Arthur Public Library, 4615 Ninth Ave. The audience repeats the phrase — Swahili for “What’s the news?” — before Hulin teaches them the proper response to his query: “Ujima.”

“Ujima” was the word of the day on Saturday, when librarian Carolyn Thibodeaux and the African American Cultural Society hosted an event to commemorate the third day of Kwanzaa. Beginning Dec. 26 and ending Jan. 1, 2014, Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maryland professor Maulana Ron Karenga as a means for African-Americans to reconnect with and celebrate their ethnic heritage.

“Ujima,” meaning “collective work and responsibility,” is the third of seven principles in the week-long celebration of Kwanzaa. Thibodeaux used the holiday as not only an opportunity to promote diversity, but also as a time to focus on unifying as one community.

“That’s my heart — how we can use these principles to better our community,” Thibodeaux said.

Port Arthur businesswoman Judy Maull, of tax and insurance company Charles Maull and Associates, illustrated the virtues of collective work and responsibility with a story about starting her business 20 years ago.

“People came from all aspects of Port Arthur, asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” Maull said. “I know firsthand that Port Arthur knows how to come together collectively and work responsibly.”

Local author Natasha Simmons, who teaches English at Memorial 9th Grade Academy, spoke about her latest book, “The Bicycle,” which tells the story of a young boy working tirelessly through the spring, summer and fall in order to save money for his coveted bicycle. However, he becomes discouraged at the lack of work during the winter — until his neighbor surprises him with an act of thoughtfulness.

In the back of the book, Simmons said, there is a cutout of a bicycle, along with a chart used to document good deeds as the bicycle changes hands. With this, Simmons said she hopes to promote kindness and good deeds.

“The purpose of this book is to put sharing and caring in motion,” Simmons wrote on the back of a bookmark she distributed after her speech. “Optimistically, kids will get excited about ‘cycling the bicycle’ and encourage adults to get in on the action.”

The program also included words from Memorial High School senior Shermandra Bromley, crowned Port Arthur’s Miss Juneteenth 2013, and a performance by the cultural dancers Little Angels.

Thibodeaux said her intent was to encourage diversity and unity among the city of Port Arthur.

“Where else would you go but to the library?” she said. “The library is the bridge of the community.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA