Interview by Jameson Johnson
Flyer for Boston Ujima Project's Black Portals I party, held on Saturday, September 24. Image courtesy of Boston Ujima Project.
If you’ve come to a Boston Art Review party over the past few years, you’ve definitely heard me extolling the importance of parties in our community. Giving people the opportunity to gather, let loose, and make new connections while dancing into the wee hours of the night is crucial to a thriving creative scene. Our friends at Boston Ujima Project couldn’t agree more.
On Saturday, September 24, at Nubian Gallery, they’ll be kicking off their first Black Portals function, where party-goers are encouraged to bring out their best attire for an evening of dancing, food, and drinks. The event is a fundraiser for the United Black Economies fund—a fund established in partnership with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative and Black Farmer Fund—with a goal of demonstrating that Black donors have the power to sustain Black communities. Of course, the event is open to all, but Black ticketholders will help reach the fund’s goal of reaching 300 new Black donors by November 30.
On Saturday evening, DJ KNSZWRTH will be spinning the tracks while Digital Soup provides digital projection art across the space. Drinks will be prepared by Bar Noir’s Kyisha Davenport and bites will be available from Fresh Food Generation. In anticipation of the event, I caught up with James Vamboi, chief of staff, community, and culture at Boston Ujima Project, to get the low down on what we can expect for the party. He even lent some fashion tips!
Jameson Johnson: Can you tell me a little bit about United Black Economies? How did this fund come about and what’s the mission?
James Vamboi: Definitely. The United Black Economies is meant to demonstrate that Black people have all the assets and powers we need to fund, cultivate, and create the economic systems needed to sustain BIPOC communities. We don’t want to have to rely on only on white people or large foundations to make this work happen. There are varied and bountiful resources in the Black community. This campaign and this party are meant to activate or launch an effort for us to directly ask for those Black resources, so we can continue to build and nurture this Black innovation called the Boston Ujima Project.
JJ: This event is going to be held in partnership with Black Farmer Fund and the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative. Can you tell me a bit about how Ujima’s relationships with these organizations got started and where you hope for the relationships to go after these events?
JV: Black Farmer Fund (BFF) and Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative are both close peers of ours. They are members of the Black Solidarity Economy alongside us, and are also very interested in building and developing a Black donor base to sustain their efforts and their ecosystems. Black Farmer Fund is on a mission to nurture Black community wealth and health by investing in Black agricultural systems in the Northeast and Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative is a community-led planning and economic development organization based in the Bronx. As leaders in this Black Solidarity Economy, we wanted to collaborate on this effort to sustain and build a Black donor base together, and felt that together, we could meet that goal.
Here at the Boston Ujima Project, we’ve retained visibility in Massachusetts and Boston with our democratic governance practice and participatory loan fund, but we also want to invite other Black communities around the world to understand and invest in the many parts of our ecosystem. We want to show people why it works the way it does and how it supports communities, so they can take some of these practices to their Black communities and create similar ecosystems. BFF and Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative are outside of Boston. They’re both New York-based organizations and we felt like a collective campaign to build a network of Black donors to invest in our organizations felt like a step in us activating more and more Black communities to sustain and understand what the Black Solidarity Economy is, and specifically what we—as three organizations—are doing to build wealth in Black communities.
JJ: That’s such a powerful mission and I love that a party is going to be used to make this mission all the more visible. Can you tell me a bit more about the event itself? Where is it going to be held and what can visitors or party goers expect when they get there?
JV: The party is going to be held at Nubian Gallery from 7:00 PM to midnight and we’re going to have an amazing DJ, KNSZWRTH, who will be playing music throughout the night. We are also collaborating with Digital Soup on projections that will be spread throughout the whole entire space. These projections will be centered on Black imagination, Black futurism, Black joy, and really offer a portal into Black world building. My intention and my hope is that people come to this space and just have a good time, but do so in a way where they feel like they look their best and they’re open to meet new people who are also resistant to the old ways of doing things and resistant to old economic practices that weren’t nourishing our communities. I think our hope is that we bring community members together to support our mission, but also to forget about the tensions of the world in this moment and form connections with the comrades around us who can help transform it.
JJ: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I pretty fervently believe that parties are crucial to fostering community. They give people a space to connect and have fun in a safe environment that doesn’t necessarily have to hinge on some kind of professionalism or charged environment. So I think it’s great that you’re kicking off this pretty radical alternative to fundraising with a space that’s accessible and welcoming to everyone.
JV: Definitely, I’m hoping that Black Portals will be a recurring event.
JJ: The Black Portals I certainly implies a second.
JV: Absolutely. I hope that we continue to curate this space of imagination and building for the future that also provides reprieve and joy for Black and brown people in Boston who are interested in something different and something new for our community.
Flyer for Boston Ujima Project’s Black Portals I party, held on Saturday, September 24. Image courtesy of Boston Ujima Project.
JJ: Is the party going to be a space where folks can learn more about the fund? I mean, in addition to people just being able to dance and have a good time, is there going to be an education component to the evening?
JV: I think there will be passive ways that people can tap into our work, but I will say the primary focus is dancing and looking good.
JJ: Speaking of looking good, what’s the dress code? Is there a mood board?
JV: Yeah. The mood board, we have a really great Insta series called What to Wear to the Affair.
JV: We’re giving people ideas on just things that they can wear. Most of our references are from Black fashionistas in the past, like Dennis Rodman or current icons like Lil Nas X and Lil’ Kim. We’re really open to bold, fun, vibrant prints, sparkling outfits, really just something that you don’t have anywhere else to wear it, this is the place you wear it. If it just doesn’t fit anywhere else, bring it here, wear it, own it. Our community will receive it openly.
JJ: Oh man, that’s quite the invitation. What will you be wearing?
JV: That’s a great question. I’ve thought about this a little bit. I think I might wear this black cropped tux jacket, some black slacks and a netted shirt underneath. I think I’ll wear my hair down with some Elton John sunglasses and big gaudy earrings too.
JJ: Very sleek. A slim silhouette with some big accessories is always a look. Is there anything else that you think people should know about this event?
JV: I want people to come ready to dance. I want people to come to meet someone and let go. I really want people to come in with that energy. I think this is a first in this fundraising reoccurring party series. So, I think if you miss this one, I hope that you can join part two and part three, as we continue to iterate and build on this concept.
Boston Ujima Project’s Black Portals I party will be held Saturday, September 24, at Nubian Gallery.
James Vamboi is the chief of staff, community, & culture at Boston Ujima Project
Jameson Johnson is editor in chief at Boston Art Review.