Nefertiti Hathaway, the founder of Ubuntu the Community. Photo courtesy of Nefertiti Hathaway and taken by Jason Smart-El.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH

ATLANTIC CITYNefertiti Hathaway wants to meet people where they are in life and believes a neighborhood, community and city needs that type of space for everyone.

Hathaway, often sounding years wiser than the age of 27, started Ubuntu the Community in Atlantic City to meet that need. Ubuntu is part of a Zulu phrase that means “I am, because you are.” Hathaway remembers hearing the word in her anthropology class at HBCU Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Like a magnet, it stuck.

“Something in my mind wanted to know more about it, and once I sat with the word it became clear that it is simply the best intention to live by. I started to break down my family tree, then I broke down my friends that I surrounded myself with and it became clear to me that, I am, because of the community or tribe that is around me. Once I learned about the Ubuntu lifestyle, I would share my knowledge and because of that my friends began to call me Ubuntu.”

Today, Hathaway’s nonprofit Ubuntu the Community is an organization that hosts community events for the people of the community by the people of the community, she said.

The Ubuntu Way

“My hope for Ubuntu the Community is to provide a space where people can come and enjoy life the way that they are, unapologetically,” Hathaway said. “Organizations such as Ubuntu the Community are necessary for the people in the community because it provides its own unique energy. It allows the people to be met where they are without judgement. This organization also provided a sense of self-love and appreciation for those around you.”

Image of Ubuntu the Community and some of its activities. Images courtesy of Nefertiti Hathaway.

Hathaway, who earned her bachelor’s degree in human service, anthropology and criminal justice, said while the support she has received for Ubuntu has been pleasing, it started off slowly. She was working as a pre-kindergarten teacher in Ambridge, Pa. while doing some post-grad work when she got laid off.

She admitted at the time feeling unfulfilled when “ubuntu” popped back into her mind again and it made her hungry to make a difference. In 2017 she moved back to Atlantic City where her mother lived.

“In those times, I would journal ideas for different community events and think of ways to execute,” Hathaway said. “I would always doodle ‘The Ubuntu Way’ and one day I decided that I was going to start putting on community events because I saw the need for it. Watching my nieces and nephews grow up without having a lot of positive things to do just didn’t sit well with me. I decided that I was going to be the person that I needed growing up and the rest is history really.

Growing a Nonprofit

“I began to send out motivational messages to my community and that is how I introduced myself as Nefertiti Ubuntu Hathaway. Fast forward to March 2018: I was working as a hostess at a restaurant and I decided that it was time to jump into action. I began to plan my first annual Juneteenth Cookout,” she said.

Since then, Hathaway has hosted successful events such as Juneteenth the Ubuntu Way, A Vision Board Night the Ubuntu Way and Kickball the Ubuntu Way.

Nefertiti Hathaway at Ubuntu’s recent Juneteenth Celebration in Atlantic City in 2020. Photo by Hidden Media.

Hathaway said she was encouraged along the way, getting support from Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, who connected her with the water department and local fire department, along with at-large council members Mo Delgado and Jeffree Fauntleroy II, who made valuable donations.

“There have been many different contributions made from the people of my community and I believe it’s because they understand that the mission is bigger than me,” Hathaway said. “I am looking forward to the events getting bigger in size. The way I believe that will happen is by spreading awareness and love and continuing to relate to the people and their needs.”

Being Better

Starting a nonprofit and hosting community events always puts the leader in the spotlight. As a role model, Hathaway says it is something she takes seriously.

“Since the age of 13, I knew that I had to set an example for those coming up under me,” Hathaway said. “I am simply living for my last name. My legacy matters the most to me.”

She said her mother inspires her today, admitting they haven’t always had the best relationship.

“I remember always comparing myself to her and her doings and one day she told me, ‘Be better than me; do better than me,’ and that was always my goal to do and be better than her,” Hathaway said. “So because she dropped out of school, I went to college and because she had children young and out of wedlock, I decided that I would be married before I have children and because she didn’t get to travel the world and live out her humanitarian dreams, I went on to start Ubuntu the Community and travel the world. My greatest inspiration is my ‘why.’ I have to show my family that is possible.”

Hathaway gives another example of how one person with one dream can make a difference for the many people who need it in her neighborhood, community and city — the Ubuntu way.

The Rest of the Story

Hathaway touched on several other issues in her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.

FRNJ: Tell us about yourself; just whatever you’d like to share.

Nefertiti Hathaway: I am the child of Leon Freeman and Danita Hathaway. Between my mother and father I have 7 brothers and sisters. In my younger years I lived between Aliquippa, PA with my father and Atlantic City, NJ with my mother because of behavior issues. Growing up in the hood I was exposed to a lot of poverty-based situations and it had its effects on my behavior. Those behaviors later landed me in an alternative school. I remember the disappointment in my mother’s voice when she told me that I’d be attending Viking Academy my sophomore year of high school. I, on the other hand, was excited and a bit anxious because it was an opportunity for me to be in a different environment with more resources. While attending Viking Academy, I started my journey into the education field with a job as a teacher’s aid at Robinson Small Learning Center. In my year-and-a-half at Viking Academy, I also attended my first and only college tour where we toured different colleges in the Maryland area. Being able to attend Viking Academy changed my life for the better; it allowed me to see a world outside of the one I was used to. I’ve always wanted to experience something different than the environment I grew up in. So naturally, as time went, on I felt the urge to leave Atlantic City. The fear of becoming stagnant led me to pack up my things on Christmas break of my junior year of high school and move back to Aliquippa, Pa. That was a year of resilience for me mentally. I later went on to attend Lincoln University, Pa. and while there, I studied Human Services, Anthropology and Criminal Justice. 

FRNJ: Anything else you’d like to share?

Nefertiti Hathaway: I would like to say that it is possible, whatever it may be. Things in life aren’t easy, but they are so worth it when you’re walking in your purpose. Always dream big and do your best to bring your dreams into reality, because that is where you’ll get a sense of fulfillment. Live out loud, live unapologetically; live out your dreams because they are worth it. We all have a purpose and the quicker you find yours, the better off you’ll be.

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