UJIMA: Reimagining Community Economies for Working Class People of Color


by Devon Capizzi

For many, the discourse of investment is almost entirely about the investor. What returns will the investor see? Where should the investor put their money, time, and attention to see the greatest returns? But what truly qualifies a “good” investment? In thinking through the lens of the investor, we too often lose the stories of those who are invested in. The UJIMA Project of Boston is working to tell those stories.

The UJIMA Project is an organization that aims to create locality-specific economic models. Focused on implementing systematic action in underserved and disadvantaged communities in the Greater Boston Area, UJIMA’s mission is “to return wealth and power to working class communities of color, and to help bring another Boston to life.” Sarah Jacqz, Communications Organizer at UJIMA, says “it is a project to build community wealth in working-class communities of color.” And part of its vision, Jacqz continues, “is organizing to push anchor institutions to really be accountable to local communities.”

Jacqz identifies anchor institutions as large nonprofits that are strongly tied to their location. These organizations fall in a wide range of fields, but are more commonly associated with hospitals and universities: Eds and Meds. This is huge in a city like Boston, with such a high concentration of both, not to mention a host of other such institutions like museums and foundations. Jacqz says UJIMA hopes to partner with large nonprofits and really look at “what it means to be an ethical, large nonprofit, whose mission is to serve the community… What does it mean to uphold that mission with the local community in mind?”

For UJIMA, the answer here is to invest, or, more colloquially speaking, give back. “One of the key strategies is taking investment finance and rewriting the rules so that it’s democratic and prioritizing people, primarily black and brown businesses that are typically excluded,” Jacqz says. By using investment practices to serve the community, not just the institutions, the UJIMA Project hopes to offer support and infrastructure to local businesses run and owned by people of color. UJIMA  seeks to prioritize people who have been overlooked, underserved and often forced to relocate due to economic disadvantages.

Somewhat experimental in nature, UJIMA relies on a variety of pathways to meet their goals and to best meet the needs of each specific locality: fundraising and economic thoughtfulness; urging community members and anchor institutions to spend more intentionally; urging large institutions to invest in the communities they share a space with and create jobs that support these communities; and, finally, communicating. A huge part of this project lies in building a community of support for UJIMA’s model.

In this vein, UJIMA has recently set its sights on creating a podcast, a work not only for but also by the community, to tell the unique stories of their community members. Using a podcast as a creative outlet tool, Jacqz says, can work really well in a variety of ways: it gives the community a voice and a platform; it engages members and helps recruit new members; it gives community members widespread access to UJIMA and their vision for the future.

This past summer, Graduate PKG Fellows Jay Dev and Marissa Reilly worked with the UJIMA Project to create a podcast for the voices of UJIMA’s localities: primarily Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. “They were really interested in doing audio work,” Jacqz says of Dev and Reilly, “and we were really looking for the support and expertise to do this kind of work.”  

The UJIMA podcast is an experimental outreach tool that seeks to use audio storytelling to give these communities voice in larger discourses: of gentrification, economic inequity, small business ownership, just to name a few of the many challenges these communities face. For an organization so focused on giving back to the communities they serve—returning wealth, resources, and investment to these localities—it only makes sense that their outreach efforts would do the same. The podcast gives community members the opportunity to tell their own stories, in their own voices.

“UJIMA is very much a member-driven corrective project,” Jacqz says. “And so, none of the staff members are on the first episode; it’s all members.” It’s all about the members; it’s all about the people and making sure their voices are heard. “So far,” Jacqz says, “we have one episode that is about 98 percent finished, and a lot of raw footage to work with still.”

The UJIMA podcast is a real labor of love, going through many iterations and workshops to ensure the final product was not only informational and educational, but also from the lips of community members and for the ears of community members as well. It’s about engagement and representation just as much as it’s about educating and informing the public. And it uses technology to bring these things to light.   

The UJIMA podcast is just one example of how technology and creative innovation is helping this incredible organization grow. If you would like to help them bring another, more equitable, Boston to life, please visit https://www.ujimaboston.com to read about their ecosystem model, their community members, and to learn how to become a member or a solidarity member, if you are not a person of color.

For more information on how the MIT community can use its unique skills and privileges to engage in public service, visit the PKG website or stop by the PKG Center (W20-549) to hear about our fellowship, work-study and internship opportunities.

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