Putting the unity in community

Currently in its third year at Pierce, Umoja strives to live up to its name and to provide a sense of unity, family and belonging among the Pierce student body. 

Umoja Coordinator Melody Smith said that Umoja is smaller than the other support programs at Pierce, but their goal is to grow and help more students each semester.

“Umoja is Swahili for unity. It’s open to all students,” Smith said. “The professors have gone through special training, and we do cultural and educational events throughout the semester. ”

Business student Brianna Randall said that her mother was a member of Umoja last year, and that she is glad to have joined. 

“I feel a part of a community that is extremely accepting and one that understands me more than any community I’ve ever been in,” Randall said. 

Randall said that one Umoja program called Porch Talks had been a beneficial experience for her. 

“We discussed the differences between going to predominantly white colleges and historically black colleges,” Randall said. “I feel like after that, my thinking about college changed. When you go to HBCUs, you are more supported.”

History major Alexander Chesney said that before joining Umoja, his understanding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) was limited. 

“My only exposure to HBCUs was to Grambling [University] and Southern [Universities] annual battle of the bands,” Chesney said. “Other than that I really had no understanding of what an HBCU was like or what it could offer, and Umoja really opened my eyes to it.”

Chesney discussed some of the issues that Umoja deals with.

“One of the issues we’re supposed to tackle is the drop in African-American student enrollment in community colleges and colleges around the country,” Chesney said. “I hope to use Umoja as a powerbase to help affect other African-Americans because it has done a lot for me.” 

Chesney said that Umoja is like an extension of his family.

“I come from a small family, part of The Great Migration,” Chesney said. “Being able to stay and be a part of Umoja in a sense makes me feel like I’m at home. Like all my uncles and cousins are back with me.” 

In the near future, Umoja is planning a conference in Oakland, Calif. to meet with the other chapters from across the state. With over a thousand in attendance, the conference will have guest speakers, workshops for students and staff and offer opportunities to network with other Umoja students.