Students, alumni and faculty gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ujamaa Residential College in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room Saturday evening.
Ujamaa aims to create a community that, among other things, helps its residents learn about the culture and history of black people in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean. Its name, which originates from the East African language of Swahili, means “cooperative economics, or the process of working together as an extended family to build and maintain a cohesive community,” according to a University press release.
During the banquet, former residents of Ujamaa shared their gratitude for a community that, they said, gave them guidance during their time as students at Cornell.
“I lived in Ujamaa all four years. Without [Ken Glover, former housing director of Ujamaa and residential director of Schuyler House], I would never have graduated from Cornell,” said Anika Daniels-Osaze ’96, the president of the Cornell Black Alumni Association.
Glover, Daniels said, served as a mentor to many students who lived in Ujamaa, which was founded in 1972 to be a safe community for students on campus.
“He checked on everybody every day, asking about out school work, financial status, health and family. To many of us, he is like [our] father,” Daniels said.
Ujamaa residents and alumni also prepared awards and gifts to honor those who helped them in the Ujamaa community. Glover, one of the award recipients, said Ujamaa has served as a place for residents to learn “knowledge, tradition and history.”
“We keep doors of opportunities open for others,” Glover said. “[We] come back to the communities in the Caribbean, Africa and America to make a difference.”
Echoing Glover’s message, Pastor Sonya Hicks, an advisor for Cornell United Religious Works, encouraged students to continue to try to give back to the community.
“I might not have a degree like you do, but I must — and you must — go forward,” Hicks said.
Students also expressed their appreciation for alumni who fought for civil rights.
“I can sit in the front of the bus … I can go to the top school in the country — Cornell,” Janelle Boyd ’13 said.
Boyd said that, thinking of black alumni who helped break racial barriers in the country, she feels fortunate to be “now living their dreams.”
“Don’t stop dreaming, because the next generation will be living in your dreams,” Boyd added.
The residential college remains a vibrant community, said Olivia Davis ’15, a residential advisor at Ujamaa.
“Being an R.A. in Ujamaa has opened my eyes to many things, including the historical importance of such a place. Now that I am aware, I truly value Ujamaa — I feel that I am a part of the history. Tonight gave me that exact feeling,” she said.
Theoria Cason, residential hall director for Ujamaa, said she hopes that Ujamaa will continue to thrive on campus.
“After the 40th anniversary, our next plan is to revitalize the community and keep it well-rounded on Cornell campus,” Cason said.
She added that, although she was “anxious” for the event in the preparations leading up to it, she thought that it was a “great success.”