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Built on the Principles of Kwanzaa

Unity-Kwanzaa-digi-imageHOUSTON – The S.H.A.P.E. Community Center has a very admirable mission: To improve the quality of life for people of African descent (all people) through programs and activities, with emphasis on Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. By leading the way toward justice, equal opportunity, and institution building in the city, state, nation, and world, S.H.A.P.E. has been one of the most visible and involved community centers in Houston’s African-American community and the Houston community as a whole. Along with this, S.H.A.P.E. has actively sought ways to oppose injustice and to better the community for all people because of its deep commitment to the community.

Founded in 1969, S.H.A.P.E. (Self-Help for African People through Education) is a long-time hub, located on Houston’s Southeast side of town, where citizens have access to all sorts of goodies, including family strengthening, year-round empowerment programs, parent support groups, and youth/family guidance and counseling. Also on the annual roster of events and programs are holistic health activities, Kwanzaa celebrations, council of elders, Pan African Cultural Festival, Legal Assistance Clinics, computer classes, and forums for community issues, and other Empowerment Activities.

For more than 46 years, S.H.A.P.E. has survived the challenges of the civil rights movement and has transitioned from a small home-town organization to becoming one of international interest, where the scope of S.H.A.P.E.’s leadership methods have been mirrored as far away as the continent of Africa. In its birthplace of Houston, however, the center, which originally had a staff of two, now supports 20 full and part-time/seasonal staff and hundreds of volunteers. In fact, what began as local outreach, has now stretched across the globe and landed into even the minds and hearts of a group of people in Gambia, Africa who embraced the S.H.A.P.E. philosophy and have created their own rendition of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center on their own soil.

With their aim centered on the revitalization and strengthening of the family, the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center puts forth tireless efforts towards effectively achieving these and other commendable goals. In a recent interview, Mr. Deloyd Parker stated in his usual firm but soft-spoken tone: “At the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, we embrace and practice the 7 principles of Kwanzaa on a year-round basis and those principles are unity (Umoja / oo-MOH-jah), self-determination (Kujichagulia / koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah), collective work and responsibility (Ujima / oo-JEE-mah), cooperative and collective economics (Ujamaa / oo-jah-MAH), purpose (clearly defined purpose) (Nia / NEE-ah), creativity (Kuumba / koo-OOM-bah), and a whole lot of faith (Imani / ee-MAH-nee).” After stressing the principle of faith, Mr. Parker continued by saying “Institutional growth and development is determined by a set of views and values, and for S.H.A.P.E., our views and values are embodied by the seven principles of Kwanzaa.”

Having said that, it’s clear that the foundation of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center is a solid one, not to be shaken by the numerous and failed attempts of any individuals or agencies that are guided by ill-intentions with the hopes of blocking the center’s outreach and influence within the community. For decades now, S.H.A.P.E. has worked, fought, struggled and endured the tests of time. And from this, they have acquired many milestones.

A few of the most notable victories are as follows: Mobilization of the A.L.D. African Liberation Support Committee, Significant involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement / Winnie Mandela visits S.H.A.P.E., Served as a host for Dick Gregory, Winnie Mandela, Martin Luther King III, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Maluana Karenga the Creator of Kwanzaa, Kalimu Ya Salaam, Dr. Sebi, Dr. Africa, and other great historians, Helped to stir awareness and activism within the community regarding the Hosea Campus Torres, Byron Gillian, and Ida Delaney Cases, Assisted in efforts to keep Texas Southern University alive, Mobilized hundreds of people in support of the Million Man March and also with the election of Houston’s first Black Mayor, Encouraging and promoting overall health among the people through hosting holistic food workshops and other health fairs… plus much more. In fact, the above list represents merely a handful of victories that have been made possible by S.H.A.P.E. and by the people who have actively supported their cause.

Anybody from around here can tell you that the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center has always been a very vital part of Third Ward.” says Third Ward native, Mr. Christopher Johnson.

Keeping in mind that without a pulse, a body would surely die, we must remember the following: “A very vital (crucial, fundamental, necessary for life) part of the community” – This is how the people perceive S.H.A.P.E. and what they have to offer. Therefore, with unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative and collective economics, clearly defined purpose, creativity, and a whole lot of faith, we can band together and make sure that the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center remains in place so that they can continue to serve as the pulse of the body of people who reside in Third Ward community and beyond.

By: Shelondra Peavy