Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY, UPRISING

Q&A with Otis Zanders of Ujamaa Place

Posted on 25 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Elena Vaughn

Otis Zanders of Ujaama Place

Otis Zanders has had enough. “As the CEO of an organization that serves the most marginalized population in society, African American men, aged 18-30, Ujamaa Place (1821 University Ave. W. n187, St. Paul) serves on the front lines of the war on injustice by helping men navigate systemic poverty and racism, connection to the criminal justice system, homelessness and unemployment.”

What is the current situation as you see it?

Our nation has been in crisis for decades.  George Floyd’s murder was where the world said enough is enough and [it] happened at a time when the world was stood still from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Why are we here? What factors brought us to this point in time?

Our hearts are broken from the generational trauma and human rights atrocities that our people have suffered for 400 years since the recording of the first slave ship’s arrival in the U.S. We must allow the voices and strength of our ancestors to guide us through these unprecedented times and the challenging waters ahead.

 

How can white people support the Black Lives Matter movement? Can you define what “ally” means to you?

Allies can support us by denouncing racism and inequality in all forms.  An “ally” is a human being.  There is one race, the human race.

 

What needs to change in Minnesota to address the systematic racism?

NOW is the time to strategize ways to confront systemic racism in every form of injustice that exists in Minnesota. We have to change. History is being written that will teach future generations that freedom and equality is not a given. We must fight for it.  Starting NOW, Minnesota must stand on the right side of history.

 

What is your reaction to the peaceful protests and the looting?

As the son of sharecroppers from the Mississippi Delta, I witnessed firsthand at a very young age, the clear connection between the legacy of slavery and American Capitalism. Today as a husband, father, and CEO of Ujamaa Place, I still see the ways in which the legacy of slavery lives on through systemic racism and plays out in the everyday lives of African Americans. We pray that the solidarity we are witnessing from around the world is a sign that we are collectively ready to pluck the ugly root of systemic racism for good. We regret that it took the murders of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others for people to finally be fed up. We stand on mighty shoulders that taught us freedom and justice is not a given, and that we must continue to teach each generation to fight for equality.

 

Watch the YouTube video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explain why people protest.  “A Riot Is The Language of the Unheard.” There is no enjoyment derived from watching a city burned or looted.

 

In 1968, Martin Luther King asked “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” How do you see the impact of these protests carrying on King’s legacy?  Where do we go from here as a community?

 

The world witnessed George Floyd take his last breath as the knee of a white police officer lay on his neck restricting his airways, with members of the community pleading for his life. This was a reminder that we are not yet FREE from the bonds of slavery. The institution of slavery and its byproducts – racism, inequality, poverty and injustice are alive and well in our society today. This is why at Ujamaa Place, we focus on teaching our men to navigate systems of racism and ways to eliminate roadblocks that perpetuate inequality.