Written by Serie McDougal
Having just celebrated Kwanzaa, it is rewarding to reflect on what the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanzaa) have offered to ceremonies and rituals for peoples of African descent. Beyond the week-long Kwanzaa holiday itself, the Nguzo Saba provides a value structure for Black schools, businesses, social services, and most especially rites of passage.
Belgrave, Allison, Wilson & Tademy (2011) developed a cultural enrichment program for Black boys called “Brothers of Ujima.” The third principles of the Nguzo Saba, Ujima is the Kiswahili word which means collective work and responsibility. The purpose of the “Brothers of Ujima” program is to take a strengths-based approach to Black male development by enhancing positive aspects of their selves and identities such as self-esteem, ethnic identity, pro-social behaviors, and positive development. Furthermore, the program seeks to reduce negative behaviors.
Graves & Aston (2018) investigated the intervention. They determined that the 14-week program was grounded in the Nguzo Saba. The format involves organizing the boys into Jamaas (Kiswahili for families). Wazees, or respected elders, who are mentors and members of the facilitation team are selected to facilitate each jamaa. The curriculum is divided into 14 sessions designed to achieve the following objectives:
The Impact of “Brothers of Ujima”
Qualitative analyses based only on observation of the program and interviews with the parents of boys who had participated in the program suggest that the boys formed positive fatherly relationships with the group leaders; the boys felt open enough to voluntarily share their school successes and failures with groups leaders; the physical activities they engaged in taught them self-discipline, and; mothers spoke of how the program changed their sons’ lives (Belgrave & Brevard, 2015). A different examination of the program in a school setting investigated the effects of the “Brothers of Ujima” program on a group of boys labeled “at-risk” and referred to the program for a documented need for emotional and behavioral support (Graves & Aston, 2018). The investigators measured how the program specifically impacted the boys’ internalization of Afrocentric values (i.e. principles of the Nguzo Saba), their resilience, and their sense of racial identity (the degree to which an individual feels a connection with and an attachment to their racial group based on a common history and shared values). The results showed that the program actually increased the boys’ Afrocentric values but had no significant effect on their racial identities or senses of resiliency. The authors speculate that this may be due to the fact that the results were based on the boys’ self-reported evaluations of the impact of the program.
Critical Evaluation of “Brothers of Ujima”
The initial evaluation of “Brothers of Ujima” was limited because it was only based on observation and interviews with parents instead of a pretest and posttest experimental design. The program would benefit greatly from some quantitative evaluation, with larger populations, building on the qualitative work that has already been done. Another concern that arises from the curriculum is its seeming lack of explicit focus on boyhood, manhood, or masculinity, which are important elements in development for boys. This may be a possible missed opportunity for how “Brothers of Ujima” has been implemented. Graves & Aston’s (2018) study of “Brothers of Ujima” was done in a school setting on a group of students who had been referred due to disciplinary problems such as suspension and expulsions. This may signal another problem at the level of program implementation. If “Brothers of Ujima” is targeted at groups of males who are exhibiting problem behaviors, this goes against one of the tenets of the program’s original design which is to organize the boys into diverse groups of Black males to enhance their exposure. This is an example of how deficit thinking can be used in otherwise African centered programming. Black males exhibiting problem behavior in some areas of their lives can benefit from Black males who are not, and vice versa. Those who are excelling in school can benefit from rites of passage as much as those who are not, but most importantly they can benefit from one another. However, the “Brothers of Ujima” program is among the most promising rites of passage programs available that have been exposed to some level of empirical evaluation. This is truly a testament to the creators of the program and their desire for improvement and embrace of critical assessment.
Belgrave, F. & Brevard, J. (2015). African American Boys: Identity, Culture, and Development. New York: Springer.
Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2014). African American psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
Belgrave, F. Z., Allison, K. W., Wilson, J., & Tademy, R. (2011). Brothers of Ujima: A cultural enrichment program to empower adolescent African American males. Champaign: Research Press.
Graves, S., & Aston, C. (2018). A mixed‐methods study of a social-emotional curriculum for Black male success: A school‐based pilot study of the Brothers of Ujima. Psychology in the Schools, 55(1), 76-84.