Editor’s Note: Giving and giving back is a common theme this time of year. But many people give to (and live for) their cities and communities everyday. This moving and inspiring piece is excerpted from a photo documentary of Carlye “Ras Ujimma” Parris. Ras Ujimma is a musician and community organizer in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a place he’s called home for over 30 years. A Caribbean immigrant, he came to New Brunswick to study engineering at Rutgers University. Since then he has lived for the city developing mentorship programs for Black youth and other needed community initiatives. Here Ras Ujimma talks about the organizations he’s been involved with and the other unsung heroes of his community, who just like him, live for their city.
Posted by Christian Oliveira and Nataly Patino, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ -- Even presently today, I’m involved in so many organizations that I never imagined myself being involved with. In my first year at Rutgers, I was involved in the formation of an organization MEET. MEET stands for Minority Engineers Education Task. That still exists today. To me, that’s most profound because it lets me know that things we can do as a young person really can make a difference in society. That’s most profound because I realize: Wow, that guy, Paul Robeson, a black guy like me… He did things in his life that we still talk about years later, but yet still he’s not honored. I am amazed that people have really honored me while I’m living.
I remember a couple years ago I got honored two nights in a row, and it made me cry because I know how many elder black people have never been honored for all the things that they have done. I’m looking at my short, little life to know that some non-profit organization can have me be their guest of honor sitting in a chair in front of—it was the Quaternity Institute, right at the outs of Livingston Avenue. The room was packed with people, and I was the number one guest of honor. I’m sitting there with entrepreneurs who are millionaires, and the founder of the Quaternity Institute is telling these wealthy people that I’m the most important person in the room. I’m sitting there, and I’m looking at this young lady and I’m like “you’ve got to be kidding.”
She’s telling them why—because of my volunteerism. This young lady had witnessed me volunteering in the community with what I do. She didn’t know that I had gotten a New Jersey volunteer award from Governor Christie Todd Whitman and Secretary of State DeForest Soaries -- she had no idea. So that night I had to cry in my own silence, in my own internal. Why? Because someone had recognized something of value in me—a black man in New Brunswick—for what I had done. Why did I cry? Because I know that there were probably lots of other black men who were probably more worthy of that award than me. I mean, sure, I’ve done quite a bit, but I know there’s others who have probably done a lot more than I have.
The MEET still exists, so when I go on Rutgers campus and I see those young kids and they have on their little red and white emblem, I feel really proud because I realize, “Wow, this is some little endeavor I did with other people that got institutionalized.” Institutions are important because they’re almost like a force in itself with its own machine that makes it continue into the future. That’s why I really like working with young people to instill in them some of things that were instilled in me. To motivate young people to excel, because we all know the value of nerds. Nerds become the scientists. Nerds become the engineers. They propagate ideas of thought patterns that motivate communities, citizens, families, even you two for meeting me on the street here tonight. I know if I hadn’t said something of value to you, you’d be like “Yo man, leave that black man alone.” You would never be here with me today. I mean, that’s my opinion. I could be wrong, but I think—I think I’m right. I think I’m right.
For you two, out of your young minds, to meet me on French Street, New Brunswick, Route 27, and then follow up so that I can be here today doing this interview—I realize that you saw something of value, too. I don’t even have to think twice about it. It’s a fact. I mean, you’re talking to a person who has performed three and four times at the United Nations. So, when somebody sees me walking the streets of New Brunswick, and they look at the cover, and they don’t know the inside, or they don’t investigate the inside. It’s their loss. It’s their loss.
For more on Ras Ujimma and other New Brunswick residents log on to http://www.thehealthcarecity.net/.
Christian Oliveira and Nataly Patino are the creators of The Healthcare City and seniors at Rutgers University. Christian studies Sociology and Political Science and you can see some of his other projects at http://www.christiancreates.com. Nataly studies Biology and French. View more of her work at http://www.pinkelephantart.tumblr.com.