What is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu (oo-BOON-too) v, n, adj, adv. [Bantu languages, Africa] "I am because you are."

The word "Ubuntu" originates from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa, and is pronounced, oo-Boon-too (in the Nguni group of languages). It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. We affirm our individual humanity when we acknowledge and affirm the humanity and human dignity of others.  In the Zulu language "Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu," can be loosely translated to mean "A person is a person through other persons."  

Archbishop Desmond TutuThe South African Nobel Laureate, and 2007 Wheelock College honorary degree recipient, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu in his 1999 book, 
No Future Without Forgiveness:

"It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them."

Why Ubuntu?

Ubuntu provides a philosophical platform based in humanism and justice that guides our programs, initiatives, and youth advocacy practices. The practice of Ubuntu challenges us to develop our collective humanity and dignity and build on our strengths as we develop networks and collaborative activities that help to improve civic life for all.

In October of 2007 Wheelock College conferred an honorary degree on Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and convened over 350 young people from 27 middle and high schools in Boston to participate in a youth symposium entitled: "Bridges To Hope and Understanding: Exploring Truth and Reconciliation. A Conversation With Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu And The Youth Of Boston." His visit to our campus served as the impetus for learning about Ubuntu and incorporating it into our practice at Wheelock.

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