To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
The heiroglyph Nefer - Ancient Egyptian symbol of beauty and good
The fifth principle is Nia (Purpose) which is a commitment to the collective vocation of building, developing and defending our community, its culture and history in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness...
Finally, Nia suggests that personal and social purpose are not only non-antagonistic but complementary in the true communitarian sense of the word. In fact, it suggests that the highest form of personal purpose is social purpose...
The fifth principle of the Nguzo Saba is Nia (Purpose) which is essentially a commitment to the collective vocation of building, developing and defending our community, its culture and history in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness as a people and add to the good and beauty in the world. The assumption here is that our role in human history has been and remains a key one; that we as an African people share in the great human legacy Africa has given the world. That legacy is one of having not only been the fathers and mothers of humanity, but also the fathers and mothers of human civilization, i.e., having introduced in the Nile Valley civilizations some of the basic disciplines of human knowledge. It is this identity which gives us an overriding cultural purpose and suggests a direction. This is what we mean when we say we who are the fathers and mothers of human civilization have no business playing the cultural children of the world. The principle of Nia then makes us conscious of our purpose in light of our historical and cultural identity.
This again reminds us of Mary McLeod Bethune's point concerning our current status as heirs and custodians of a great civilization. She said, "We, as (African Americans) must recognize that we are the custodians as well as heirs of a great civilization." "We have," she continues, "given something to the world as a race and for this we are proud and fully conscious of our place in the total picture of (humankind's) development."49 As noted above, Bethune is concerned that our purpose is derived from three basic facts. The first two are that we are both heirs and custodians of a great legacy. This means first that we must not simply receive the legacy as a formal historical and cultural transmission, but recognize and respect its importance. Secondly, it means that far from being simple heirs we are also custodians. And this implies an even greater obligation.
To inherit is to receive as legacy, place adequate value on and make a part of one's life. But to be a custodian of a great legacy is to guard, preserve, expand and promote it. It is to honor it by building on and expanding it and in turn, leaving it as an enriched legacy for future generations. Finally, Bethune asks us to recognize and respect our legacy in terms of where it places us in "the total picture of [humankind's] development." It is a call for us to see ourselves not as simple ghetto dwellers or newly arrived captives of the suburbs, but more definitively as a world historical people who have made and must continue to make a significant contribution to the forward flow of human history.
49- National Education Association, The Legacy of Mary McCleod Bethune, Washington, D.C.: NEA, 1974, p. 18.
Inherent in this discussion of deriving purpose from cultural and historical identity is a necessary reference to and focus on generational responsibility. Fanon has posed this responsibility in compelling terms. He says, "each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, (and then) fulfill it or betray jt."50 The mission he suggests is always framed within the larger context of the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people. And each of us is morally and culturally obligated to participate in creating a context of maximum freedom and development of the people.
50- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press, 1968, p. 167.
Finally, Nia suggests that personal and social purpose are not only non-antagonistic but complementary in the true communitarian sense of the word. In fact, it suggests that the highest form of personal purpose is, in the final analysis, social purpose, i.e., personal purpose that translates itself into a vocation and commitment which involves and benefits the community. As we have noted elsewhere, such level and quality of purpose not only benefits the collective whole, but also gives fullness and meaning to a person's life in a way individualistic and isolated pursuits cannot.
For true greatness and growth never occur in isolation and at others' expense. On the contrary, as African philosophy teaches, we are first and foremost social beings whose reality and relevance are rooted in the quality and kinds of relations we have with each other. And a cooperative communal
vocation is an excellent context and encouragement for quality social relations. Thus, DuBois' stress on education for social contribution and rejection of vulgar careerism rooted in the lone and passionate pursuit of money is especially relevant. For again our purpose is not to simply create money
makers, but to cultivate men and women capable of social and human exchange on a larger more meaningful scale, men and women of culture and social conscience, of vision and values which expand the human project of freedom and development rather than diminish and deform it.
In conclusion then, at the center of our purpose is to work in such a way that our collective vocation of building and expanding our community always has as its central motivation and meaning our honoring the ancient teachings of our ancestors from the Odu of Ifa which says, "Surely, humans were chosen to bring good into the world."