By Gabriele Eissner
Ubuntu. I am because you are.
I came across this word in my high school history class. I was fascinated by it. Despite having roots in ancient Africa, the concept of ubuntu is most well known for being a guiding philosophy of post-apartheid South Africa. There is no word in the English language quite like it. In fact, living in an individualistic society, there isn’t even a concept quite like it. After a brief period of wanting the word tattooed on my arm, I forgot about it.
In September, I went to the border. All I could do was look up and say, “Wow, there is actually a wall that divides us.” In our world, examples of division are not few and far between. However, this moment, staring at rusted, steel bars, was surreal. I could see all of the world’s hate and fear reflected into those fifteen foot rods. A feeling of hopelessness and weakness washed over my body. How are we supposed to work for justice when we can’t even see the humanity of our neighbors?
This feeling of despair was quickly juxtaposed. After visiting the border, I spent a week working at a shelter in Tucson. It was there that I rediscovered the word ubuntu. The families took each other in. They recognized each other’s pain and celebrated each other’s joy. One day, a young boy arrived. He had travelled from Guatemala all by himself and spent months in detention. The residents didn’t even hesitate before accepting him into their family. By the end of his first day, there were three women calling him son.
Ubuntu is often described as a mutual caring for all, but I believe it is much more than that. As Desmond Tutu put it, it is realizing “you can’t be human all by yourself.” It is an interconnectedness that transcends individualism. It is true community.
I have thought about how the community we have built in St. Louis reflects this philosophy. The four of us have woven our lives together. This doesn’t mean that we spend all of our time together, but rather we look after one another. After a difficult day, I know I have three people to confide in. After a joyous day, there are three people who will laugh with me until the wee hours of the morning. We have freely and gladly accepted a responsibility to each other.
In a time when our nation is more divided than ever, it is important to remember that we belong to each other. When I am feeling hopeless and weak, I find comfort in the power of community. A power so strong that it can render borders meaningless.
Gabriele Eissner (she/her) was raised in Sheboygan, WI spending much of her time on the beach. She recently graduated from Saint Louis University with a degree in economics and public health. In her free time, Gabby enjoys running (or at least tries to), salsa dancing, and eating veggie burritos. She is spending her year advocating for immigrant rights at St. Francis Community Services.
In Their Own Words
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