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.”