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(Cooperative Economics)

To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.


Ujamaa is the principle of Kwanzaa that is most directly at odds with the way that capitalism functions in America. While all of the principles will lead us away from the exploitative nature of American capitalism when we fully understand and practice them, Ujamaa as a principle and practice directly offers a way of living that is in direct contradiction.

Ujamaa is more than just “buying Black” although it can start there. Ujamaa calls us to each play a part in building collective wealth and claims that each of us has the right to enjoy the wealth we help create. In other words, wealth is not just the right of the landowner or CEO, but the worker in instrumental in the creation of wealth, and therefore ought to be paid accordingly. Pay isn't based on the bare minimum that the employer needs to pay to keep the employee, but it is based on valuing workers as partners in wealth creation. 


The Christian practice of tithing and giving offerings is rooted in the same beliefs that support the principles of Ujamaa. We understand that our ability to make money is not ours alone, so we dedicate a part of it back to God and the community so that the community can be blessed. 


Many Black churches, particularly in the American south created mutual aid societies and other cooperative models to ensure the stability and dignity of all of its members. 


There are many practices in the Old Testament that support the notion of Ujamaa: 


  • The second chapter of Ruth shows us a practice where landowners would not harvest all of the crops in their field. By leaving some crops available, people who have need can go directly to the field to get what they need to survive. 

  • The Sabbath (Exodus 20:7) was designed to allow all workers the opportunity to have time to rest and recover, to connect with others, and to be fully human. 

  • Jubilee (Leviticus 25) was a practice that was designed to ensure that people did not experience generational poverty. All debts were cancelled after so many years, and land that was taken away because of debt had to be returned. 

  • 1 Kings 17 begins the story of the struggle between the prophet Elijah and Ahab, the king. This struggle was about Ahab’s unjust economy. This story is highlighted by God connecting Elijah’s survival to the survival of one of the most vulnerable 


Ways that we can practice Ujamaa at home include: ​

  • Having conversations about money. If your family does not talk about money, outside of paying bills, this is a great starting place. Have conversations about your beliefs about money: What kind of lifestyle are you trying to afford? What are your beliefs about spending, saving, and tithing/charitable donations? Where are your beliefs on the spectrum between individual wealth building and communal wealth building? Where are your current financial habits on that spectrum? 

Make financial decisions that prioritize the family as a whole. Some examples include: 

  • Creating a family savings account to which everyone, including children, contributes. Have a purpose for this account that is connected to wealth building, even if it seems out of reach right now. Have meetings at regular intervals to tell the story of why the account was created, to celebrate all of those who contributed, and to set goals for the future. 

  • Create a family investment account. If you have an investment account that you monitor, or you have someone that you trust who manages your investment accounts, set up one for the family. Choose an investment that is mission-aligned with your family values. Have regular meetings as described above. 

  • Create a family business. If you are entrepreneurial, or if you have family members who are, create a business, no matter how small. Give every family member a role to play in that business. Have dedicated family work times and dedicated business meeting times to do the work together. 


Ways that we can practice Ujamaa in the community include:

  • Contribute to increasing our community financial literacy. If you have a low level of financial literacy, find a class or a program in your area, and attend it. If there is not one in your area, work with your church or organization (see the Umoja reflection, if needed) to plan one. If you have a high level of financial literacy, host or help to plan or promote financial literacy programs.

  • Improving our spending habits: Where possible, support Black-owned and/or local businesses over large corporate chains. Prioritize companies that treat their workers more equitably over companies that pay poorly or create dangerous working conditions. 


Take a look at how you have used money over the last year. Make notes of how the principles of Ujamaa were reflected in your spending and celebrate those. Then create a goal to take a step closer to Ujamaa in 2024.

Make a family commitment toward one of the plans illustrated above. What information do you need to be successful? To whom do you need to talk to execute your plan? 

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