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West Dayton Stories: I Am Because We Are

Few people have contributed more to building community than sociology professor and activist Amaha Sellassie. From co-founding the West Dayton Strong after school program to the Gem City Market, he can be found at the front of efforts to make Dayton an equitable and just place. But sometimes, that comes at a price. Here’s his covid commentary:

I AM because WE are. I am beginning to realize just how real this truth is.

This statement can be summed up in the Zulu word Ubuntu; it explains our fundamental human nature. Yet it took a pandemic, for me to realize the deeper meanings of this truth as we collectively float on this rock we call Earth.

We can try to act in isolation, but the reality is that we are all One, interdependent parts of a social body, bound in what Dr. King called the “single garment of destiny.” What affects one, affects us all. This realization has taught me the need to expand my WE.

But the pandemic has also taught me a transformative lesson. Since I am because WE are, I am included in the community. If I don’t take care of myself, I am actually weakening my community. This has been a profound revelation, because I had been taught to deny myself in service to others. From time to time, I would find myself run down and depleted in my attempts to give of myself. What I did not realize is that since we are interdependent, I am included in the WE.

This has led me to work on slowing down and walking more closely with the earth. I now realize that we develop our capacity to support others more by doing the hard work to heal ourselves. We can then be the answer and invitation to the world we want to inherit. Since race is an imagined social construct, a notion that has long sustained inequality for people of color globally, we can eradicate it through actions that confront the notion that difference is inherently hierarchical.

This period of transition is a genesis, the emergence of a new shared future. I am because WE are.

West Dayton Stories is produced by Jocelyn Robinson at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and is supported by CityWide Development Corporation.

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Amaha Sellassie
Jocelyn Robinson is a Yellow Springs, OH-based educator, independent media producer, and radio preservationist.