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Umoja: Brenda Fryson

Umoja, the first day of Kwanzaa in the Nguzo Saba, means "Unity"

Umoja [oo MOH jah] is the first day of Kwanzaa in the Nguzo Saba. It means "Unity:" to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

Bed-Stuy resident Brenda Fryson exemplifies the principle of Umoja. For more than 30 years, she has shown unwavering commitment to volunteering her free time and extra energy toward helping build coalitions that foster a more unified Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Fryson, 71, truly is a force of nature. As a CUNY graduate and a former teacher, she has more energy than most 20 year olds and is known mostly around the neighborhood as someone truly engaged in preserving Bedford-Stuyvesant’s rich history and legacy of community.

Although Fryson over the years has worn several different hats in the community – including serving as chair of Community Board 3 – currently, she is founder of the Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc.; co-chair of the YES (Youth, Education and Safety) Taskforce; and an active member of the Bed-Stuy Aging Improvement District.

Fryson grew up in Fort Greene on Cumberland Street. But she made a conscious decision as a young mother to move to Bed-Stuy, because here, she said, is where she saw a strongest sense of community and where she felt most comfortable raising her daughter.

“When I got here, my daughter was five, and we were considered the kids on the block,” said Fryson. “I remember when my plumber told me, ‘We have fought as hard as we could, and now it’s up to you young people to carry the ball.’

“There was the understanding that whatever skills you had in the workplace, you would apply it in your community. We hope the new residents will be willing to be a part of this ongoing energy in this neighborhood.”

And if you know Bed-Stuy— and I mean, really know this Bed-Stuy—you know that Fryson’s soothing and ongoing energy buzzes in virtually every corner and on every block of the neighborhood.

“We have to take care of our business, which is the health of our community, the education of our children, and upholding the highest expectation of city services, such as sanitation, transportation, etc. Those are the things we continue to battle for.

“So if you come here, you have to do work; you have to be a part of the fabric,” said Fryson. “Every single one of those trees outside of these homes on my block were purchased decades ago by people who lived on this block.

“And we’re just trying to get that message across to the new people who are coming: Why move here only to shop in Manhattan and send your children to school in Manhattan?

“Why not invest in your own community and become a part of the fabric?” said Fryson.

“Really, that’s always been the brilliance of Bed-Stuy-- that you have always had these coalitions of folks, network of neighbors working in unison on an issue.

“A lot of people worked hard to maintain the Bed-Stuy you see here today. And there’s so much work that has to be done, because AIDS is still here; asthma is still here; diabetes is still here. We still need to fix our schools…

“But we’re fighting those things and we need the new blood to step up and step in. That’s what we have to continue fighting for together.”

pat December 27, 2012 at 10:15 PM
This resident in Bed Stuy is doing great things. Are you folks on this site educating people on who actually came up with the concept of Kwanzaa, Mr. Karunga. If not let me help out so that this great woman like this lady are not attached to the sick demented beginnings of the person responsible for this celebration called Kwansaa: In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and false imprisonment.[14] One of the victims gave testimony of how Karenga and other men tortured her and another woman. The woman described having been stripped and beaten with an electrical cord. Karenga's former wife, Brenda Lorraine Karenga, testified that she sat on the other woman’s stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose. A May 14, 1971, article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said. They also were hit on the heads with toasters." Happy Kwansaa
Ko December 28, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Thank You Ms. Fryson for your work in the community. Pat, in 1971, racial tensions were high and freedom fighters did regrettable things (Not everyone was as tolerant as Dr. King). Karenga, despite his own demons (We all have some) provided something that fills a void for African-Americans and provides a bridge to their African ancestry. If you want to be helpful like Ms. Fryson, work on updating a curriculum in schools that adequately educates our children on their history. This would help fill the void, thus making the holiday unnecessary :) Thanks Ms. Fryson for being a problem solver and an asset to our community
Christina December 31, 2012 at 04:06 AM
I have assisted Ms. Fryson when/where I can with her many projects. She is awesome! Wishing her a wonderful 2013 and looking forward to working with her. Blessings.
Eunice December 31, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Cousin Brenda's commitment to family and community has always been awe-inspiring. A desire to keep the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy a source of pride for its residents has been her passion. Her conviction that those living in the community should be engaged in the quest to ensure quality schools nearby, and that all City services are available to meet the needs of the young and old alike are heartfelt. May God continue to bless you and all the Fryson/Gray family in 2013! Much love! Have a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! Eunice
Brice January 06, 2013 at 03:26 AM
I LOVE MS.FRYSON!!! She is knowledgable & receptive to the young people's ideas. She is a great leader & person!!!

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