Through community building and promotion of Black excellence, students are able to prosper despite negative outside influences. Umoja is a program that focuses on enhancing the educational experience for Black and other students.
“Umoja” is a Kiswahili word that means unity. Umoja was founded in 2006, with the mission of increasing Black student success on campuses around California. Umoja is available at 57 campuses state-wide and continues to expand every year.
“People of color are marginalized in society and expected to land in the same place as those who are given more opportunities,” says Cheyenne Thompson, a member of the Umoja chapter at Los Angeles Pierce College.
According to the NAACP, African American and Latino people make up 32% of the U.S. population, while they make up 56% of the U.S. prison population.
For Patrick Washington, member of the Umoja chapter at Los Angeles Southwest College, going to college is not something that comes easy. Growing up in Inglewood, he’s witnessed many of his close friends and family lack support and resort to the streets.
“I have friends that died in Inglewood Family Gangs and it could have been prevented if they had support from something more positive,” Washington said.
That’s where Umoja came in — a place that students can call home, the program features student support services, textbook vouchers, “umojified” professors, and communal activities and events.
“Umojified” professors go through special training sessions to learn the pillars of the program while students participate in orientations and kickoffs to understand the importance of community and academic success.
Alexander Chesney, a Pierce College student, said Umoja pushed him to do well in school. He attributes his academic success to the support of Umoja, and said that access to the program fulfills the social experience of college.
“It helped me feel connected, especially in community college where people don’t hang out after class,” Chesney said.
Like Chesney, Washington sees Umoja as a home away from home.
“It’s just a place you can go to not feel alone,” Washington said.