Ujamaa [oo JAH mah] is the fourth day of Kwanzaa. In the Nguzo Saba (seven principles), Ujamaa means “Cooperative Economics:” to build and maintain our own businesses and profit together from them.
Bed-Stuy business owners Safiya Hassan and Josie Ultarte-Almonte are ambassadors of cooperative economics because of their undying commitment to strengthening the small business community of Bed-Stuy.
They are excited to see the recent acceleration in the neighborhood's small business sector which has produced more big-chain retails and upscale restaurants. But what also disturbs them is witnessing so many of the longtime neighborhood businesses closing due to rising rents.
"For us, keeping the businesses that are already here vibrant is extremely important, because it keeps the community vibrant," said Ultarte-Almonte, owner of the Little Red Boutique on Lewis Avenue.
"We want to entice people to stay in the community and spend their money here. This way, we all win."
Hassan, who owns N-Diya Beauty Boutique and Spa on Nostrand Avenue, insists that it is important for a community to practice cooperative economics to in order to gain true prosperity and independence: "Only through economic independence can we control our fate."
So the duo took action and launched this year “I Shop Bed-Stuy,” a shopping campaign and store tour, in conjunction with 12 Bed-Stuy small business, that encouraged residents to shop local during the holidays. Ultarte-Almonte and Hassan met with some of the small business owners to coordinate participation, and each store agreed to offer special discounts on gift items, and all agreed to wrap each item for their customers.
Brooklyn native Hassan opened her own store two years ago and has been a Bed-Stuy resident for that same amount of time. She says she loves the wide selection of gifted and talented people in the community: "I have met some really amazing people since opening my store," said Hassan.
The I Shop Bed-Stuy Campaign was just the beginning for Hassan and Ultarte-Almonte; the two are working on turning I Shop Bed-Stuy into a non-profit organization that will feature shopping and community outreach campaigns year-round.
"I feel there's too much emphasis with young people on getting a good job and not enough on developing entrepreneurship," said Hassan. "I would encourage young people to cultivate their minds, become innovative and self-reliant. These are the first steps to having an economically sound community.