By: CSTA Equity Fellow Victor “Coach” Hicks
Imagine a symphony of marching bands, their rhythmic pulse mirroring the beating heart of the community. This is Umoja, unity in action, a principle that echoes through the code of computer science, guiding us to break down complex challenges into harmonious steps. Kwanzaa, celebrated from Dec.26 to Jan. 1, illuminates the vast heritages of the African diaspora. Its regal name, derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” (first fruits), is rooted in seven core principles, the Nguzo Saba, which serve as a foundation for community development and personal growth. These principles aren’t confined to a holiday; they pulse through the lives of those in the Diaspora, a code in our DNA, driving us forward like a tide against the shore, eroding walls of injustice, and carving a path towards liberation. We didn’t create these principles; we’ve lived them:
- Umoja (Unity): Fostering unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): Defining and shaping one’s own identity and destiny.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): Building and maintaining community together, and solving problems as a collective.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): Supporting and growing businesses and movements that benefit the entire community.
- Nia(Purpose): Developing a collective vision for community building and development.
- Kuumba (Creativity) Using creativity and innovation to improve the community.
- Imani (Faith): Believing in the community, its leaders, and the righteousness of their struggle.
In parallel, computational thinking is a problem-solving process essential in the field of computer science, but its application extends far beyond. It involves several key skills:
- Decomposition: Breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts.
- Pattern Recognition: Identifying similarities and differences to help solve problems.
- Abstraction: Focusing on important information only and ignoring irrelevant details.
- Algorithmic Design: Developing step-by-step solutions for problems.
- Efficiency: Solving problems in the most effective and resourceful way, optimizing processes to achieve goals with minimal waste of time and resources.
- Innovation: Devising novel solutions and approaches to complex problems, often by combining existing concepts in creative ways
- Critical Thinking: Systematically evaluating and synthesizing information to make logical decisions and solve problems effectively.
This article explores how the principles of Kwanzaa resonate with and reflect the components of computational thinking. It delves into the ways these cultural values can enhance and inform the skills necessary for effective problem-solving in the modern technological landscape.
1. Umoja and Decomposition
Umoja, the principle of unity, emphasizes fostering togetherness within families and communities, highlighting that collective efforts surpass individual actions. In computational thinking, this aligns with decomposition, the process of breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. Applying decomposition to community challenges allows for addressing large issues by dividing them into specific, smaller challenges. This method enables individuals or groups within the community to tackle these challenges effectively based on their unique capabilities and resources.
2. Kujichagulia and Algorithmic Thinking:
For instance, in addressing a community-wide issue like educational disparities, decomposition involves pinpointing specific elements such as resource accessibility, teacher-student ratios, or the availability of after-school programs. By focusing on these distinct aspects, various community members can contribute to solving each part, thereby collectively addressing the larger problem. This approach not only simplifies problem-solving but also fosters community participation and unity, as everyone works together towards a common goal, embodying the essence of Umoja through collaborative effort and shared responsibility.
Think of the countless black coders who, despite systemic barriers, carved their own paths in the tech world. Like Katherine Johnson, whose meticulous calculations fueled NASA missions, they embodied Kujichagulia, self-determination. Their journeys reflect the methodical planning of algorithmic thinking, each step carefully chosen to navigate the labyrinth of challenges toward their ultimate goal.
This methodical planning, reflective of Kujichagulia, empowers the student to break down their larger goal of a successful Computer Science career into manageable steps. It involves a series of conscious decisions and actions, each step carefully aligned with their ultimate objective of excelling in the field of technology. This approach not only ensures a focused educational journey but also embodies the essence of self-determination in shaping their future in the tech industry.
3. Ujima (Collective Responsibility) & Pattern Recognition:
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the Black community stand as testaments to the transformative power of collective action, where shared responsibility paves the way for innovative solutions. This principle aligns with pattern recognition in computational thinking, where identifying trends and behaviors informs effective decision-making. In the context of HBCUs, this could involve analyzing data on student performance and outcomes to tailor educational programs and resources, ensuring they meet the specific needs of the student body. By recognizing and responding to these patterns, HBCUs can enhance their support systems, leading to improved student success and well-being.
4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) & Abstraction:
Ujima, the Swahili principle of collective responsibility, beats at the heart of the Black community’s approach to tackling systemic issues. By weaving together insights from lived experiences with data-driven analysis, communities can recognize patterns of inequity in health, employment, and housing. This shared knowledge becomes the foundation for targeted solutions, like improving healthcare access or advocating for fair housing policies. This collaborative approach, where analysis and community spirit merge, ensures solutions are not imposed from above, but built together, brick by brick, to address the unique challenges and dreams of the Black community.
Historically, Black communities have thrived by pooling resources, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other’s endeavors. This collaborative spirit, an embodiment of Ujamaa in action, can be seen as a form of collective abstraction. Like in computational thinking, where complex problems are distilled to their core elements, Ujamaa encourages communities to step back from individual challenges and focus on the bigger picture of shared prosperity. By abstracting away from individual successes and failures, and instead prioritizing the advancement of the community as a whole, Ujamaa fosters a powerful drive for collective progress.
5. Nia(Purpose)& Efficiency
In a city like Atlanta, a burgeoning hub of Black excellence in computer science and innovation, the principles of Ujamaa offer a blueprint for even greater achievements. By intentionally applying cooperative economics within the tech sector, there is an extraordinary opportunity to amplify success and foster an environment where collective progress is the measure of achievement. In this model, success is not just individual but communal, where each advancement contributes to the upliftment of the entire community. Atlanta, with its rich history and vibrant culture, is uniquely positioned to lead this movement, demonstrating how cooperative intentions and actions can propel the entire race towards unprecedented heights in technology and beyond. This approach not only honors the legacy of Ujamaa but also paves the way for a future where the success of one is the success of all, embodying the true spirit of collective prosperity and Black excellence.
For HBCU students and alumni, their journey to success is intricately linked to their heritage, guided by principles like Nia (purpose), which fosters a unique blend of purpose-driven focus and computational efficiency. In computational thinking, efficiency is a crucial skill, involving the ability to solve problems in the most effective and resourceful manner. This skill is pivotal for HBCU students and alumni who, understanding their purpose, navigate their educational and professional paths with this computational efficiency. It’s not merely about speed but about optimizing every step for maximum impact, a direct reflection of their deep sense of purpose.
6. Kuumba (Creativity) & Innovation
This strategic approach, deeply ingrained in Nia, mirrors the resilience and perseverance celebrated in Dr. Maya Angelou’s “I Still Rise.” By applying computational efficiency, HBCU students and alumni meticulously chart their course, making calculated moves and overcoming obstacles with unwavering determination. Their journey, marked by purposeful and efficient problem-solving, turns challenges into opportunities, exemplifying how the integration of computational thinking and cultural principles like Nia can transform limitations into triumphs.
Kuumba, the Nguzo Saba principle of creativity, isn’t just about artistic expression; it’s a fuel for innovation, especially in a landscape marked by limitations. Take HBCU marching bands, vibrant testaments to this spirit. Despite facing resource disparities, these bands innovate like mad scientists, transforming constraints into canvases for excellence. They hack limitations, turning shoestring budgets into sophisticated sonic landscapes. Instruments become extensions of their creative spirit, weaving complex harmonies and rhythms that defy expectations. This isn’t just about marching and music; it’s pushing boundaries, redefining what a marching band can be, and igniting a wave of innovation that ripples through the broader HBCU community.
The spirit of Kuumba isn’t confined to the pulsating rhythms of marching bands; it also ignites flames of innovation in social spheres. Take the founding of Black Greek organizations like Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Kappa Alpha Psi. These pioneers, facing the harsh realities of white college campuses in the early 1900s, didn’t settle for existing structures. Instead, they embodied Kuumba by creating something new, transformative – brother and sisterhoods rooted in service and excellence. This wasn’t just about social gatherings; it was about redefining what community could be in the face of adversity, forging lifelong bonds that transcended institutions and generations.
7. Imani (Faith) & Critical Thinking
But their innovation didn’t stop there. These organizations, along with the Divine 9 founded at HBCUs, became incubators of leadership and activism, empowering members to tackle social injustices and uplift their communities. By breaking the mold and building their own legacies, these founders demonstrated the true power of Kuumba – not just to create, but to create with a purpose, to leave a lasting impact on the world around them.
Imani, the Swahili word for faith, is not merely a passive belief in the Nguzo Saba; it’s a dynamic force woven into the very fabric of the Black American experience. It’s the unwavering conviction in unseen horizons, the ancestral flame illuminating the path towards liberation despite systemic shadows. This principle resonates deeply with the computational thinking skill of critical thinking, especially when viewed through the lens of Black America’s historical struggle for equality and justice.
Framed through this lens, critical thinking transcends mere analysis; it becomes a beacon of hope, illuminating a path towards a more just and equitable world. It’s the strategic calculus that fueled the Civil Rights Movement, guiding the boycotts, marches, and prophetic pronouncements of Malcolm X, Fanny Lou Hamer and countless others. Their unwavering Imani fueled their critical dissection of the socio-political landscape, allowing them to anticipate challenges and craft effective responses. This potent synergy of faith and critical thinking laid the groundwork for dismantling oppressive systems and reshaping societal norms..
Similarly, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as physical manifestations of Imani. Founded on the bedrock belief in education’s transformative power for Black Americans, these institutions have not only provided access to knowledge but have also nurtured generations of critical thinkers. HBCUs have empowered their students to challenge societal norms, question the status quo, and become architects of innovation in diverse fields. They’ve birthed leaders who think critically, envision equitable futures, and refuse to settle for a world where justice remains an elusive mirage.
The Nguzo Saba, Kwanzaa’s seven principles, weave a vibrant tapestry when paired with computational thinking. This union unveils a legacy rich in Black history, resilience, and innovation. These principles aren’t mere concepts; they’re lived experiences, ancestral wisdom, and guiding stars. When reflected in computer science, their power shines through, mirroring the same ingenuity and critical acumen that Black communities embody.
Educators, mentors, and leaders shaping young minds remember: you’re not just imparting skills; you’re awakening a generational DNA of greatness. Every lesson, challenge, and triumph becomes a flame igniting Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, and the rest. Your role transcends classrooms; you’re architects of a future where Black excellence in computer science isn’t an exception but the norm.
By integrating the Nguzo Saba with computational thinking, we unlock a powerful framework for problem-solving, innovation, and building a more equitable future. Black contributions to computer science haven’t simply been successes; they’ve redefined the field itself. Our experiences – of struggle, resilience, and ingenuity – mirror the core principles of computational thinking. This fusion can not only empower future generations of Black computer scientists but also inform diverse approaches to problem-solving in fields beyond technology. Let us embrace these principles, not just as words, but as guiding lights to shape a future where Black excellence flourishes not just in code, but in every aspect of society.
About the Author
Victor “Coach” Hicks, a luminary based in Atlanta, Georgia, is the distinguished founder of Coding with Culture. Committed to establishing a “Kindergarten through HBCU” pathway in computational and design thinking, Coach Hicks is a fervent advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Through innovative programs in Computer Science/STEM, tailored Professional Development for Teachers, and impactful partnerships, he empowers the next generation. Coach Hicks’ mission is underscored by a dedication to culturally responsive and sustainable pedagogy, revolutionizing STEM education. His accomplishments include recognition in Forbes Magazine and presentations at prominent international and national level ed tech conferences, solidifying his influence in the field.