The Umoja African Festival

Though far from the native, Africans in the United States have a way of transporting their ever so rich and dynamically diverse cultural aesthetics and practice. They do so as they make positive social and economic contribution in their newfound communities, while influencing the contemporary American popular cultural and social lives. And perhaps, their African cultural evocations, in their quiet but yet intense way, are enthralling influences to enliven.

In Oakland, there is a plethora of neo-diaspora African entrepreneurs, artists, social engineers, community organizers, and educators playing a critical role in the resurgence of Oakland. They are appropriately poised to add to the larger storyline of Oakland’s city environment of “collapsed boundaries among subcultures” and the proclaimed evolving arts and cultural style in Oakland.

The Umoja African festival [Umoja: Swahili word for ‘unity’] –claimed to be the first ever pan-African festival of its kind in Oakland –is an annual event created by four young-dynamic individuals residing in Oakland. Their intention, grounded in the African sensibility of community and unity, is to gather Africans in the diaspora, whereby “create an environment that promotes the development of African communities”. “Umoja aims to inspire a mutual understanding and cultural dialogue through the celebration of music, art, and physical wellness,” the organizers state.

In its second year, the Umoja festival organizers ambitiously envision to unite Africans in the African way, a communal African spirited way. Their vision is to bring various prominent African communities to the fore of what is said to be “Oakland’s cultural renaissance”. Moreover, they have partnered with an Oakland-based apparel company, SuRu, to organize a highly anticipated inter-African soccer tournament –claimed to be the very first U.S. “mini-African cup” competition of its kind, featuring some of the best players from various African soccer leagues, from around the Bay Area.

This year, the festival is expected to extend its revels; the day’s activities will be filled with a thrilling football competition, a taste of some of the best African cuisines alongside varicolored artisans all powered by the ever so irresistible African sounds and dance performances. Meantime, various organizations will set-up informational booths to share resources available in Oakland, to community at large. Extending the festival to an evening of entertainment, the nighttime concert anticipates a headlining act from Africa, as well as other local musicians.


The Umoja festival is planned to take place in the heart of one of Oakland’s marginalized communities, at Lowell Park in west Oakland. “An often marginalized community within the discussion of Oakland’s revitalization, we felt it was important to include this predominantly African-American community in our goals, due to the importance of topics such as food justice, physical wellness and the celebration of positive self-identity,” the project director, Effie Tesfahun remarks.

A vision principled in the treasured African cultural sensibility and heritage, the festival hopes to create a day full of festivities and educational information that will inspire and foster Umoja, unity. ”We envision building upon the elements from last year’s activities and creating new spaces for various local organizations in an effort to inform the communities about the resources available to them,” the organizers said. “We will also designate space to information booths on holistic treatment”.

The Umoja festival is scheduled to take place, in Oakland, on August 16, 2014.

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