The struggle for justice and freedom for Afrikan people continues for Baba El Senzengakulu Zulu. After the freedom rides Baba El Zulu became an enlisted warrior on the frontline of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, repeatedly risking his life battling the Jim Crow laws of the segregated Deep South. Baba Zulu was a true warrior: while engaging and battling the racist segregationists during the civil rights struggle, there were at least three attempts to kill him, and he was arrested a total of 69 times. Although Baba Zulu struggled against the racial injustice of this society, in many ways he was very concerned about the education in our community and in particular the education of our youth. This was evident in the unfolding of his history beyond the freedom rides.
He became involved with the SNCC movement in 1960. He was on the executive board, a field secretary, and one of the organizers of the March on Washington. This was during the time when Martin Luther King gave his power speech “I Have a Dream.” During Baba Zulu’s tenure with SNCC, he served as a director of the following chapters: Nashville Student Movement; Jackson, Miss.; Macomb, Miss.; and Washington, D.C. The focus of the SNCC movement was voter registration and direct action, which was the struggle against segregation.
While working in Macomb, Miss., he participated in a demonstration against the segregated establishment. One hundred thirteen students were expelled from school. In an effort to help the students, SNCC established freedom schools to conduct academic classes. While working with the students, they learned that they could not read or write and did not know anything about their history. There were too many students to teach, so they were sent to various locations in the U.S. where families took them in and helped them enroll in other schools. While in Mississippi, Baba Zulu met Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others. They worked closely together on the voters’ registration drive and the struggle against discrimination.
This was the beginning of Baba Zulu’s thoughts to open up his own school because he knew that at some point, we had to open up our schools to teach our own history.
After leaving Mississippi in 1964, he received two scholarships: one for Harvard Law School and one for Howard University Law School. He chose Howard University Law School. While attending Howard University Law School, Baba Zulu received a call from James Forman, Executive Secretary of SNCC, requesting his help with the Selma, Ala., crisis. The assignment was the Washington, D.C. chapter of SNCC. He went to the White House as a SNCC representative along with H. Rap Brown (NAG), Walter Fauntroy (SCLC), the Urban League, and others. This visit was to urge the president to send troops to protect the people during the civil rights demonstrations in Alabama.
As members of the D.C. chapter of SNCC, Baba Zulu and Marion Barry organized the Free D.C. Movement that provided help with voters’ registration, improved housing, transportation changes, food and shelter for the homeless, and the struggle against police brutality.
In 1966, Marion Barry resigned, and Baba Zulu became director of the D.C. Chapter. At this time, he organized the freedom schools in D.C. in order to help our youth with reading, writing, and their history. In January 1968, the Ujamaa Afrikan Shop was opened to build a financial basis for an independent Afrikan community school.
On May 4, 1968, Ujamaa School opened with 3 students in preschool and added a grade each year up through high school. Ujamaa school in an ungraded school system. He chose that system because it allowed him to move students according to their ability. Ujamaa School is the first and oldest Afrikan independent school in the U.S. In the last 40 years, many students have graduated from high school, some as early as age 14. The majority of the students who graduated went on to receive honors and degrees from major universities. Some have returned to teach at the school. Many of our graduates now have families of their own and have chosen to send their children to Ujamaa.
Baba Zulu was blessed to have seven children and seven grandchildren. All of his children attended Ujamaa School and are productive in their careers. One in an attorney, four are teachers, one is a construction contractor, and one in a computer specialist and chief chef.
Ujamaa was not just pre-school through high school. It provided adult education and seminars with well-known speakers to re-educate the community. Baba Zulu also helped and aided the start of other independent schools in the D.C. area. His belief is that these schools should be in every section in the D.C. area and beyond.
In 1970, Baba Zulu was elected to the position of president at a community credit union. In 1972, he was elected to the District of Columbia Citywide Development Council.
Baba Zulu has traveled extensively nationally and internationally, speaking about the struggle of our people and the need to build independent institutions to provide quality education and to teach our history. He performed Afrikan weddings, provided Afrikan names to those seeking to identify with their Afrikan heritage, and conducted ceremonies and provided certificates to validate these new names. IN addition to being founder and director of Ujamaa School, he is also a family counselor.
In 1977, the Center for Black Education, which is the parent institution for all Independent Afrikan educational institutions in the U.S., received an invitation to visit China. Ujamaa is a part of the Center for Black Education; therefore, Baba Zulu visited China that year to examine their school system, factories, and other areas of interest. On the way to China, Ujamaa School stopped in Egypt. While in China, Baba Zulu met Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, for the first time.
In 1982, Ujamaa School was invited by President Julius Nyerere to visit Tanzania. A group of 15 students, teachers, and parents visited schools, factories, and the Ujamaa village of self-reliance. The government had an annual festival called the Saba Festival. When Baba Zulu returned to the U.S., he organized an annual festival called the Nguzo Saba Festival. The festival was designed to bring about cultural awareness and to help destroy the injustices and discrimination in America.
In 1992, a group of 22 students, parents, and teachers visited West Afrika. The first stop was in Senegal. While in Senegal, they visited schools and the slave castle at Goree Island. This is where the slave ships arrived to pick up Afrikan men, women, and children to enslave them in other countries.
The next stop was the Ivory Coast, where they visited museums and shops. The last stop was Ghana. There, they visited schools, shops, slave castles, traditional shrines, museums, and other art facilities. While in Kumasi, the group met with the Asantehene, at which time he gave the school seven acres of land. The purpose of this trip was to bridge the gap between Africans born in Afrika and Afrikans born in America.
While in Ghana, Baba Zulu was enstooled as a Chief. He was informed that this recognition was because of his role as a leader in the U.S., teaching children not only academics but also their culture and inspiring everyone in the school to receive Afrikan names and to practice their culture. He received an Afrikan stool and plaque. Baba Zulu’s international travel has also included a trip to Brazil and other countries.
On May 4, 2018, Ujamaa celebrated 50 years of providing academic excellence with Afrikan culture. Over the last 40 years, Ujamaa School has been a cornerstone in the community, providing a forum to re-educate our families, annual festivals, dancers and drummers who have performed throughout the U.S., Friday night Family Night programs with renowned speakers such as Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Ben Jochannan, Dr. Asa G. Hilliard, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Molefi Asante, and many more.
Baba Zulu has not wavered in his desire to continue to educate our own children. His philosophy for breaking free from our oppressor’s mental and psychological control over us is to practice our culture, give thanks to the Creator and our ancestors, and wear our traditional Afrikan clothing.
Baba Zulu was a Freedom Rider and founding member of SNCC’s Nashville project. He became co-director of the SNCC office in Washington, D.C., working with Marion Barry until 1966 when Baba Zulu became the head of SNCC in D.C. Following the D.C. uprising after the assassination of Dr. King, he built the Ujamaa School, the first and oldest African independent school in the United States.
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