Despite current ideology in some groups, it does take a village to help us grow into our best selves. The Nigerian proverb “Ora na azu nwa” translates “it takes the community to raise a child”. I totally agree. At several stages of my development from boyhood to adulthood, I recall being fed, loved, scolded, encouraged and forgiven by people in my community. They all saw it to be their duty to shape me into becoming the man I am—a man of humility, integrity, service, and accountability while reminding me to assist others in their development as I matured.
Sure, there were instances when I lost my way or fell prey to the hype about my achievements. Yet I recognize that I would not be who I am without having been loved and guided by individuals inside and outside of my home. Each believed not only in my potential but also in their responsibility to shape me. At such times when infants, children and adults are baptized into a religious community the congregation is asked to promise to provide love, support and care as the one being baptized grows in faith. The community responds in affirmation.
Recently, President Obama delivered a commencement address to the 2013 graduating class attending Morehouse College. As I read his manuscript, I was reminded of how important the notion of “Ora na azu nwa” is to me. No matter how many times I hear people say that they “accomplished all of their success on their own or pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps,” I cringe. The truth is we all receive assistance at differing points along the way.
Parents, siblings, teachers, ministers, business leaders, even politicians have inspired us. Each has been a role model whether they knew it or not. Those who knew me often wouldn’t let me quit when things were toughest. Communally they would remind me that, “trouble doesn’t last always.” Certainly, I didn’t always believe they understood my plight, though in actuality the specifics didn’t matter. The man they educated, along with the wisdom of their collective experiences, was enough for them to trust that the right outcome would eventually manifest.
President Obama reminded the college graduates that as products of Morehouse they weren’t to be clever, “but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life – men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.” He continued, “There are some things… that you are obliged to do for those still left behind. As graduates… you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you are about to collect. And that’s the power of your example… use that power for something larger than yourself.” That’s “Ora na azu nwa.”
“Ora na azu nwa” encompasses all aspects of communal life. To embrace this ideology invites us to understand that we are called to share our gifts of time, treasure and talents with all, especially the young. This ensures success for the children, the elders and community as together we grow in service to one another.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.